There is a purity and sacredness as a life begins to ebb, the veil thins and the hint of what is to come becomes more palpable. While the biological mechanism that holds our soul begins to weaken and wear out, the soul in its beauty begins to shine through. While I fully realize that in this day and troubled age, many times the body that harbors someone’s soul is ripped apart too quickly, by violence and the harsh realities that come with human free will, there are those who, after a full and breathtakingly ordinary and beautiful life, sustain my belief that love is still the author of this play called life, and because of the tether we have to a gracious God, nothing will still it.
I think we sometimes forget the subtle and sustained moments of love that often go unrecognized in the day to day. It is like a favorite smell, song, or the warmth of the sun that bring a sigh, a moment of relief or happiness that Fill in the negative spaces and keep us moving forward. I am amazed to hear the stories my mother-in-law Rayola tells, each one a reflection of simple moments that wouldn’t seem to amount to much in the full span of a life, but are coming back to her with great clarity as her life begins to wane and the effect they had on her and her life’s journey. It gives me respect for the moments I often disregard as meaningless or less than impactful, when, in reality, they take root deep in our personal psyche and ripple outward inspiring other simple gestures of kindness and love toward even more people.
I see the ripple effect everywhere in this woman’s life…the circles of kindness, acceptance, and unconditional love that wave outward into the world making their impact heartily and consciously felt. I know there are many moments that may be unconsciously felt or recognized by the person receiving the benefit (as I am one such recipient), but they are powerful nonetheless. I want to remember the beauty in the waning of life, like the colors of a sunset or beauty of the first star of the night…like a hint of all the beauty and the glory to come. Love doesn’t need a trumpet or neon flash or pageantry. Love is the all, the beauty of a background and the whisper of God in our ears, just like my mother in law. Today I celebrate the indomitable spirit of those subtle but powerful moments of love.
None of us share the exact same gifts, nor will we produce the same fruits. What is necessary to cultivate and sustain them may be different too. To take it one step further, we are not always aware of the impact of fruit shared. Confused? Let me share a story. While a teacher at the Academy of Holy Angels, I had the benefit of working with the theater department (cheers to Gregg Sawyer) to create a one-act play about the homeless. Because I was in campus ministry at the time, I coordinated experiences about the homeless with students who were writing the play. Working with a homeless shelter in downtown Minneapolis, many of our students got the opportunity to volunteer and gain some insight into the plight of the homeless. On one particular evening when I was volunteering with some students, I had a somewhat confrontational interaction with a woman who didn’t like that we were there “spying” on them. I continued the conversation with her for quite awhile, and learned many things about her struggles. She was an educated woman who struggled with mental illness and alcohol. I don’t really remember the specifics of the conversation, but I think we parted on good terms having listened to one another.
Over a decade later, in my small little town 60 miles away, we had a patient scheduled that my husband had known from high school who was down on his luck and had lived in Mexico and had struggled with drugs there. He was in rough shape and needed a chiropractor desperately. He arrived for his appointment, and his companion was the woman I had met in the shelter all those years ago. I knew who she was right away, ( I never forget a face), and I could tell by the look on her face that she recognized me too, because she complimented me on my eyes, just like she had done in the shelter. Neither of us brought it up, but she paid for his visit and the one the following day. She wanted to help her friend, she said. She had at one time fallen on hard times, and she wanted to be able to give back, she said. I smiled and said something about the ripple effect. She smiled, and I never saw them again. Was it divine providence? Cause, seriously, what are the odds of that happening? What lesson did I learn? Perhaps we had influenced each other in a simple but powerful way, and God threw us together for a moment to illustrate that we should always be ready and willing to put ourselves out there, extend a hand or a word because we may never know the impact it has on someone’s life.
What would have happened if I had gotten all defensive and just blown her off? I wondered about that a lot. Bearing fruit doesn’t have to be magnanimous to be miraculous. That can’t be said enough. The alternative is true as well. The one ingredient that I know is essential regardless of the size or breadth of the fruit is kindness. I remember that woman often as my encouragement to never underestimate a simple gesture…and I hope she remembers me too.