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“Gift of Love Transcends the Material"

Dr. Delvyn Case, Jr.
Award of Outstanding Merit - $1,000

Dr. Delvyn C. Case, Jr. is a practicing Hematologist/Oncologist with the Maine Center for Cancer Medicine and Blood Disorders in Portland and Scarborough, ME.  He received his undergraduate degree from Brown University, medical degree from Jefferson Medical College, and post-doctoral training from Cornell University and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.  Dr. Case has had letters and articles on science and religion published in a number of national magazines including Christianity Today and Physician magazine.  He is a regular contributing columnist for “Reflections” in the Religion section of the Portland Press Herald, writing a column every two months since 1997.  He has received awards for his writing from the Portland Press Herald, the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference, and is a previous Amy Writing Award winner.   

Few witness a lover's embrace.  It is precious and beautiful, usually private and intimate.  I have witnessed several in my line of work.

One early Sunday morning on rounds, I opened the door to a patient's room to discover Sharon lying tightly against her husband with her right arm under his neck and her left arm firmly round his chest.  She was in her sixties.  Her husband was seventy.  Sharon's arm was smooth and athletic.  Her husband's right arm exposed in the short-sleeve hospital gown was thin and gaunt. 

As I entered the hospital room, Sharon propped herself up.  Her right arm was still under her husband's neck.  As Sharon moved, her husband's arm that had been around her waist fell to the bed limply.  His eyes were half-closed and his breathing was shallow.  Sharon smiled tenderly and stroked her husband's cheek. 

How strong is love?  Can it last throughout the course of a devastating illness?  I sought an answer in an instructional manual in love-making.  I found the answer in the Song of Songs, the book in the Bible that describes an amorous relationship between a man and a woman, possibly between King Solomon and his young bride.  Though the book may have allegorical meanings, it is certainly a lyrical poem depicting love in all its spontaneity, beauty, power, and exclusiveness with moments of intimacy and anguish, ecstasy and separation.

I discovered the power of love described most strikingly at the literary climax of the book:  “For love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave” (Song of Songs 8: 6).  In this sense “jealousy” means intensity, zeal, or loyalty.  As the grave will not give up the dead, neither will love surrender the loved one no matter the circumstances.  Certainly Sharon was manifesting the “jealousy” of love with her tender affection toward her husband who was advanced in his illness.

However I perceived more in their intimacy as revealed in the rest of the Bible passage:  “Love burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame” (Song of Songs 8: 6), literally “ like the very flame of God.”  This verse implies that love is from God, a gift of God.

We are told in Scripture that God is a spirit.  Yet He loves and comforts us:   “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalms 23: 4).  How can God a spirit love and comfort us?  As I watched Sharon embracing her husband, I recognized Sharon was embodying the love of God.  She was providing a physical presence for God through which comfort and affection flowed to her husband.  Sharon was God's flesh and blood.  

As her husband's breathing became more shallow, Sharon sat up and reached behind her neck.  She unclasped the gold cross that hung around her neck.  It was the first present her husband had given her forty years ago, before they were married.  Over the years many gifts followed; but none had supplanted it in meaning or sentiment.  She put the cross around her husband's neck and clasped the chain.  The chain rested against a chest that was hardly moving.  Sharon patted the cross reverently and lovingly. 

Far too soon the cross lay motionless on her husband's chest.  He had stopped breathing and his eyes were closed.  With tears in her eyes, Sharon looked longingly at her husband.  Grasping her husband's hand, she kissed him on his lips—lips that could not now respond to her.  As I gazed at the two of them together, I understood Sharon had given her husband much more than a cross.  Who said “You can't take it with you”?  Her husband did.  He took the love that Sharon had given him, a gift that reached from across eternity and then beyond the grave.  A gift from God.

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