He was standing on the hill next to the Rhodies, wearing his boots and leaning on a shovel. A sweatshirt hung on him in the warm sunlight, and his old Lyman Orchard hat was perched on his head.

"You're too cute, you know."

"Yeah, me and my swollen face."

"Not many guys can pull that off!" I called out as I was heading into the summer kitchen to finish canning the tomatoes.

Roger was suffering from a nasty bout of edema, a symptom of his illness—he is malnourished due to protein-losing entropy, something he's been fighting for a few years now. Complications crop up. Last May, he spent a week in the hospital for a blood clot that started in his jugular vein and traveled down his arm an unbelievable twelve inches. One doctor kept an eagle's eye on him, concerned about a possible stroke. The next month, he visited Duke University's research hospital in the hopes that doctors there could find the source of his illness, but to no avail. And so he returned home with a heavy heart.

The garden helped take his mind off all these worries, if only for a while. The blueberry bushes he put in two years ago were during well. The rosemary plants, which I was positive wouldn't grow for us, were becoming established and enjoying the sunshine. Gladiolas were beginning to bloom in their pastels. And we enjoyed all the veggies throughout the summer.

How could I argue as he pushed himself yet one more time to tackle another chore? Digging in the dirt and nuturing a bit of our food supply was a little of his joy. I was surprised that he could get his feet into his work boots; it must have been uncomfortable. Still, he was determined to get those new raspberry bushes into the ground before they suffered from our own Blease brand of forgetfulness. Every year, Rog has big ideas for our ever-expanding garden. It now has more square-footage than our home.

When I told him that he looked adorable to me, I wasn't just passing him a compliment for fun or to be nice. I really meant it. He looked very special, a man on a mission--yet standing in a humble demeanor, hoping his body could handle the task.

Not long ago, my husband could easily port a canoe on his shoulders—typical of a man of Viking and Danish descent. And every year he looked forward to a rugged outing at a Jeep jamboree. So, you can understand that he is still trying to grasp and work within his new limitations. It can be frustrating and overwhelming for him, a young man of only forty-five. Each day, he aims to finish a task, but many times he's forced to get under the covers and wait for a better, stronger moment.

When we first fell in love, I used to tell Roger that I could see his whole person in one glance—not just his blue eyes and strong shoulders, but all of him, and I adored what I saw.

Sadly, there's something about years spent together--time passing while raising a family, caring for a home, and building a career--that can draw a curtain over what was once so easy to see, the beauty of the heart and the soul.

But with his illness--perhaps a bittersweet blessing--a dusty curtain has been pulled back, and I can see all of him again, this man of determination and zeal. He has plans, regardless of what his body is telling him he can't do. Perhaps his soul is building a tower. And I am glad to admit that I find that very, very attractive indeed.

Copyright 2010 Kathleen Blease