This sad yet uplifting story is written by Fr Eddie Laloe, Chaplain at Kenyatta hospital. The article was published in the January edition of ''Africa" a publication of St Patrick’s Missionary Society. The story is juxtaposed with the ancient Song of Solomon.
My beloved is mine and I am his –2:16.
Saturday evening. The lifts, the stairs, the wards are crowded with visitors from all over the country; people in Kenya are very attentive to all who are sick. Hard to do any work and I decided to get out of the hospital early.
I was about to move when Sister Teresia, another chaplain, led to me to Floor 8. When I got there she told me, “Consolata is quite sick. Total kidney failure and the doctors have informed her they are unable to do anything more for her. She and her husband have been planning for a long time to marry. Maybe we could have the wedding here. It would have to be soon.”
We talked with Consolata. She was quite puffy, breathless and really looked old. But yes she wanted to celebrate her marriage with her husband, Emelio.
From snow –tipped Mount Kenya
Their home was on the slopes of Mount Kenya, a wide snow –tipped mountain more than one hundred and thirty miles from Nairobi. Teresia said she would arrange to contact him by mobile and tell him to come as soon as possible. I asked her to tell him to avoid any complications, just come himself and we would do the rest.
Teresia said, optimistically, that she expected he would come the next day. I said to myself he might turn up Wednesday or Thursday.
I was in the office after the first Mass on Sunday. Teresia came and said, “The man is here.” I asked her, “What man?” She said,”The man for the wedding”. I had forgotten.
He came in, a young looking man. He had received the message late the previous evening. He left his house at four in the morning, walked a considerable distance to the road, eventually found a mtatu (small bus), got to the nearest town and eventually made it to Nairobi.
Behold, he comes, leaping over the mountains, bounding over the hills (2:8).
We explained to him that he could marry there and then, no rings, no wedding dress…..just themselves and God. He kept shaking his head amazed that, after waiting and postponing for so long, things could be so simple.
Two People in Love
Next, up to the ward. Consolata was weak and dull, but lit up when seeing Emelio. My Lover is radiant and ruddy, he stands out among thousands (5, 10)
I explained to the ward sister that Consolata was going to get married and, while we could do the ceremony in the ward, it would be better if she was allowed to go to the chapel. She said. “I never heard of a wedding in a hospital”, We did one on Sunday three weeks ago “.
Once she agreed, she was totally helpful. She organised the wheelchair. Consolata put on her dress and came down in the lift. Meanwhile we arranged for a married couple to be a witnesses, bridesmaid and best man.
The very simple ceremony started, about 7 people altogether in the chapel. Anxious about Consolata's lack of energy we moved the mass along quickly, preached for 60 seconds flat that marriage was not about rings or cakes or dresses but 2 people loving each other and accepting each other for life. Then came the ceremony itself.
Consolata was sitting until then but now insisted on standing, supported, for the exchange of vows.
“Emelio, do you take Consolata as your wife? Do you promise to be faithful to her in joy and sorrow. In sickness and in health. To love her and respect her all the days of her life?” “I do.”Consolata, the same quastion, "I do ".
That’s the core of the marriage. We had no rings. It didn’t seem to matter. Though I was trying to rush things, Consolata seemed in no hurry, three or four times I asked her, “Are you feeling alright” She never answered. Instead she just said each time, “I am so happy.”
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for the winter is past, the rain has come and gone. The flowers appear on the earth. The time of singing has come (2, 12)
In the Shadow of Death
If you have never shed tears at a wedding, you are likely to shed tears at such a wedding. Weddings are joyful but when celebrated in the shadow of death there has to be pain in the heart. Why was Consolata so happy? They had known each other since primary school. She had been young and beautiful.
She knew that now she was no longer beautiful and that however much she might hope for a miracle her days were numbered.But Emelio truly loved her and had come bounding over the hills to let her know that even if she was now weak, no longer beautiful, no longer able to work, he loved her. He had not withdrawn that love.Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm (8, 6).
At this wedding Mass they shared for the first time together the one Bread and the one Cup. They signed the register and we left the church.
We had bought a few sodas and someone has bought a simple cake. Consolata was in no rush to be back in the ward. This was the day she wanted to hold on to. The cake was divided and we took a few of the sodas.
The Bridesmaid stood up. “This is the most wonderful wedding I was ever at. Today I have really understood for the first time what marriage means. It is, indeed, not about a wedding dress, rings, food or photos. On a wedding day you can be so anxious about everything that you cannot understand or enjoy it. To day I have seen that it is about a women and a man loving each other forever and telling that to one another before other people. I wish we could all know what a wedding is really about”.
I, too, realised more clearly that we should let the wedding liturgy speak for itself. Let the words, the actions speak out. Don’t cover things up with flowers, processions, carpets, long drawn out words, fancy singing. Don’t let a photographer, in shabby jeans chewing gum, take away the dignity. Keep it simple. And let the simplicity speak.
A Story Simple and Profound.
Consolata was in no rush but eventually she was taken back to her ward. She rallied a bit and left the hospital a few days later with her husband.
Who is coming up from the desert, leaning upon her lover? (8, 15) She and Emelio went back to their home on the side of Mt Kenya.
Within 3 weeks she was dead.
She died knowing she was totally loved.
For love is strong as death …its flash as flashes of fire…Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.