Ted & Lee drama lifts five-year burden

tedandlee.jpgHARRISONBURG, Va. Mennonite Media — This is the true tale of two modern-day brothers, Ted Hughes and Frederick “Sonny” Hughes, two biblical brothers, Jacob and Esau, and how a Ted & Lee TheatreWorks production made something wonderful happen.

For five years, Ted Hughes lived with the memory of wounding his brother in a verbal exchange left unredeemed after Sonny’s death. He thought forgiveness was something he could neither receive from his brother nor allow himself.

Mennonite Media is cooperating with Ted & Lee TheatreWorks in a special Harrisonburg presentation May 18-19 of the same production which brought Ted Hughes reconciliation.

Hughes, 73, of Souderton, Pa., had a brother, Sonny, born in 1928 with cerebral palsy. This was a time when new parents in this situation were routinely told “just put your child in an institution. It will be for the best for all concerned.” Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder which permanently affects body movement and muscle coordination caused by abnormalities in the parts of the brain that control muscle movements.

Ted Hughes was a clerk and department manager at the Provident Bookstore in Lancaster for more than 28 years; he is retired and now drives a school bus part-time.

“My brother never went to school, never learned to read, and it was very hard for him to speak and make himself understood,” Ted said. “Growing up with him, we learned how to understand him.”

But rather than accept the doctor’s advice, their mother, Vertelle, said “As long as I live, Sonny won’t be in an institution.”

Sonny learned to walk with difficulty, and contrary to predictions, he did learn to dress and feed himself. The family all helped take care of him. He learned all the Bible stories even though he couldn’t read. Undoubtedly he knew the familiar story of Jacob and Esau, classic conflicted brothers of Genesis.

After their mother died, Sonny went to live with a sister, Estelle Hayes, in Philadelphia. Then Sonny got prostate cancer and when it spread to the bone marrow, the family knew they needed to find other care for him. Ted and his wife, Lina, a registered nurse, took Sonny into their home in Souderton until suitable space in a nursing home opened.

But Sonny needed far more care than they ever realized.

“He had to be fed again, like a newborn baby,” Ted said carefully. “It was 24/7 care, which wears on you far more than what you think it does.”

The physical stamina and emotional coping took its toll. With prostate cancer, there is increased pressure in the bladder, and a man feels like he has to urinate all the time.

One night, after expending a lot of time and effort to get Sonny into bed, Sonny motioned to Ted that he had to urinate.

“When he did that, I don’t know why, but the first thing out of my mouth was, ‘Why on earth didn’t you tell us that before you got in bed,” Ted recalled with shame. “The tongue is like a two-edged sword. In an instant, the look on Sonny’s face said I had cut him and cut him deeply. It was no fault of his own; it was the disease doing this to him.

“After I said it,” he continued, “it felt like I had stabbed a helpless creature.”

Sonny spent about two months with Ted and Lina. When they were able to get him into a nursing home 12 miles away, Ted fed his brother lunch and dinner everyday, and Lina did Sonny’s laundry. This went on for about five months until Sonny died in 2002.

But the bedtime toileting incident hung in Ted’s mind, haunting him when he was awake and in his dreams when he slept.

“It ate at me and ate at me. But I never talked to anyone about it. I never even talked about it with my wife, who had been around when it happened,” Ted said.

Ted went to a retreat where he shared the incident with Souderton Mennonite Church’s pastor of worship and congregational care, Sandy Drescher-Lehman. “She opened up some doors that I wished she wouldn’t have opened,” Ted said. “It really irritated me, because what she was telling me was probably true.”

On March 16, Ted went to Ted & Lee’s “Live at Jacob’s Ladder” show at Souderton Mennonite Church. He laughed, listened, and applauded.

Then something happened.

In the last five minutes of the show, Ted Swartz and Lee Eshleman play biblical characters Jacob and Esau, who finally reunite and compare notes on their lives. Jacob says the gifts he sent ahead were to seek forgiveness for the long-ago bad blood between him and Esau.

Esau responds that Jacob couldn’t “buy” Esau’s forgiveness. “All you had to do was ask,” is Esau’s stunning line.

To Ted Hughes, the line felt like a last word from his brother.

Ted went home and stood in front of Sonny’s picture hanging on his wall, a photo that had haunted him. He talked to him and asked for his brother’s forgiveness.

“That may sound weird, I don’t really believe you can ‘communicate’ with dead people, but it was as if he was saying to me, ‘Why did you wait, because I forgave you that night when the words came out of your mouth.’” Ted noted that it is easy to give forgiveness, much harder and “very humbling to go and ask someone, ‘Will you forgive me?’”

But now Ted says he does feel forgiven. “I can walk past his picture now and look at him and feel like he is smiling at me. I am still struggling within myself asking, ‘Why did I do what I did?’ But that weight is off. I hope others will consider their need to be forgiven. I wasn’t going to that show for that to happen. But people should go with an open heart asking ‘what is this saying to me?’”

“Live at Jacob’s Ladder” originated with a single scene written and performed by Ted Swartz and Lee Eshleman in 2001 to accompany an address by Desmond Tutu. Singer-performer Ken Medema later wrote a companion song for a video entitled Bridge to Forgiveness (produced by Mennonite Media). Mennonite Media is presenting these two nights of shows as a benefit for their organization, best known for their award-winning documentaries, Fierce Goodbye and Shadow Voices. Mennonite Media’s documentary work began in 2001 with a program called Journey Toward Forgiveness.

Mennonite Mission Network has also commissioned an original new Ted & Lee show on mission titled “Eccentric Entermission” to be unveiled at the Mennonite Church USA General Assembly in San Jose, Calif., this summer.

For those in the Harrisonburg vicinity, more information on this event is available at http://store.mennomedia.org. For information on booking “Live at Jacob’s Ladder” visit www.tedandlee.com

Story taken from Mennonite Mission Network
Photographer: Sandy Drescher-Lehman
Original posting Thursday, May 10, 2007