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Love As A Verb

Jan. 29, 2013
 
Nicole Marquez / Brice Media
Lynn Wilbanks and Mayor Mary Hawkins / Amile Wilson
Debbie and Skip Lowe / Amile Wilson

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Love. It’s in the air. It’s all you need. And it’s the under riding theme of the month of February, what with Valentine’s Day hitting right in the middle of the month. Most of the time, we think of love as an emotion, something we feel. But love is so much more than that. Love is when we genuinely care about another’s wellbeing.

Love as a verb is love expressed as an act of unconditional selflessness. It can be a grand gesture, or something small, but full of meaning. And it never requires something in return.

Sometimes, it takes something drastic to realize how much people really care. In my case, “drastic” is an understatement. On a warm late summer night, in the middle of Harlem in New York City, our oldest child discovered she was locked out of her apartment. Ever resourceful, Nicole had the idea to go to the roof of the building to see if she could find a way down to her open bedroom window. Once there, she realized it would be impossible, so she turned away, trying to think of another plan. Over eight hours later, she woke up in a hospital emergency room, paralyzed and confused. It dawned on her that the unthinkable had happened. She fell. Six stories.

After spending a month in New York Presbyterian Hospital recovering from surgeries to stabilize her broken neck and back, it was time to fly home to rehab in Mississippi. We explored several options to get her home. Commercial airlines were out of the question. Nicole was still on a ventilator. Several Jacksonians offered their private airplanes, but Nicole’s condition required her to be flown on a specially-equipped air ambulance, with an on-board pulmonologist and a critical care nurse. The two-and-a-half hour flight from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey to Hawkins Field in Jackson would cost close to $15,000  an expense not covered by insurance. A bank-to-bank transfer was required before the plane would fly.

We lived a comfortable life in Madison, but we had nowhere near $15,000 in disposable assets to make that kind of payment. My husband, Larry, flew back to Jackson to see what he could work out. Cash in a 401K maybe. Or take out a second mortgage on our house. Whatever it took to get our girl home. When he walked into the bank the next morning, he was shocked to learn that there was more than enough in our checking account to cover the flight. Wondering if it was a mistake, he was quickly told that people had been coming by the bank for a couple of weeks, dropping off checks to be deposited to our account.

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We later learned that a close friend, Susan Luke, had sent out a mass e-mail, asking folks to read, act and forward on to others. “If you had been at home, I’d have organized a casserole brigade to fill your freezer,” she told me. “But you’re in New York, and you need more than casseroles.” She asked for our account number, and she collected checks, often dozens each day, and deposited them into our account. A letter was also sent to the general membership of the Country Club of Jackson, where Larry is the clubhouse manager.

Linda Bynum, executive director of the Ridgeland Chamber of Commerce, also informed us that the Chamber established a medical fund for Nicole. Notices were sent to Chamber members, and an announcement was published in newspapers.

Because of the generosity of friends, family, acquaintances and even complete strangers, we were able to fly Nicole to Jackson and pay numerous medical bills. Instead of worrying about how we would pay for her treatment, we were instead able to focus fully on her rehab, giving Nicole all of the attention, encouragement and love that she needed.

The unconditional selflessness of each person who donated money, expecting nothing in return, was such a huge gesture of love in action. Of course, there were many other gestures, such as a friend who paid for a cleaning service for six months so that I wouldn’t have to spend my time cleaning my house, and a friend who gave us restaurant gift certificates, and the friend who came to paint Nicole’s fingernails, or give her a facial when she was flat on her back. There’s no way we can pay that back, and even though we’ve tried, there’s really no way to thank each person, as so many of the gifts were made without our knowing.

Instead, we attempt to pay it forward. If we can do a kind act for someone, we try to do it. And with each act, I remember the kindness shown to our family when we needed it the most, and I say a collective prayer for those folks who made our bump in the road a little smoother.

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Sometimes love comes in the midst of the unthinkable. Lynn Wilbanks of Madison has experienced countless acts of love over the past year and a half since losing her son, Mason, in a tragic car accident. Mason and two of his friends, Clayton Kelly and Walker Kelly, wanted to show their love for their families by coming home from Ole Miss for a surprise weekend visit. They boys had to leave early Sunday morning, October 30, 2011, to attend church services with their fraternity. On the way back to Oxford, their car flipped off an overpass on I-55 North, near Vaiden.

Yet it was a recent act of love by Wilbanks that made Madison’s Mayor Mary Hawkins-Butler’s heart swell. “Out of the blue, Lynn came by my office and gave me a bracelet with three little pearls on it,” Hawkins-Butler said. “The pearls are to remember each of the boys in the accident. Lynn said that I wasn’t their mother, but I was the mother of Madison. To me, it was such an act of love. I will wear it every day of my life.”

Wilbanks said that when she thinks of love as a verb, Hawkins-Butler comes to mind. “It’s because of the way she has been there with me and the other moms and stood beside us, cried with us, and loved our boys  even through their death. That is one of the most special actions I can think of. How many communities can say that their mayor has truly loved their kids is so many tangible ways? What an awesome example of God’s love she has shown! We are so incredibly lucky to have her as the leader of our town!”

The late Stephen Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” and many other popular self-help books, said that "Love is a verb, it is an action.” He once advised a client who was having marital problems to love his wife. The client replied that there was no longer any love in the marriage. Covey persisted, saying “You must do things for her, listen to her, be there for her. It's not about what happens in return but what you do to love her.” His client followed the advice, and a drastic turnaround occurred within the marriage.

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Acts of love don’t have to be grand to hold great meaning, especially for those who are far from their families. When she was deployed to Afghanistan in January 2011, Naval Captain Debbie Lowe wanted to be sure she stayed connected to her husband, Skip, and their son, Jason, back in Ridgeland. “We used email and Skype a lot,” said Lowe. And it was the simple things that made a big difference to Lowe while she was away. “Skip would send my favorite coffee from Fusion coffee shop in the Township, and he’d send my secret obsession, Little Debbie cakes. Having those things was like having a taste of home.” Lowe said that when she went to mass on Sundays, she’d imagine she was holding Skip’s hand while she was saying the Lord’s Prayer. “It’s something we do when we attend mass at St. Richard’s, so I’d close my eyes and imagine he was there next to me, holding my hand.”

Lowe did get to visit with Skip and Jason in Spain during one of her rest and relaxation breaks during her deployment. “Of course, they brought me little things from home and that was such a treat. It was those simple acts of love that made the separation easier to bear.” While she was deployed, the Lowe’s read the same books, as well as the same daily devotional, which they discussed each night online.

Gone from home for 365 days, Lowe said that many of the military families had a “Circle of Freedom,” with which they counted down the days until they could return home. Instead, she and Skip counted down the moons. “When there was a full moon in Afghanistan, there was a full moon in Mississippi, too. It was so much easier counting down 12 moons instead of 365 days.”