March 28, 2008

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Behaving like the Easter people we are

Cynthia DewesAt a recent women’s club meeting, the women were asked to answer the roll call with a memory of something really nice which someone had done for them. (This would probably happen only in a women’s group.) Everyone had a moving story to tell of people’s kindness, including the kindness of strangers.

One woman said that she and her husband had only lived in their new house for a short time—and hardly knew their neighbors— when their first child was born prematurely.

They were at the hospital with the baby for long periods of time, leaving early and returning late.

On the day they finally brought the baby home, they were surprised and gratified to find that the neighbors had cut their grass, weeded, mulched and planted flowers in their yard to greet them.

Another lady whose husband died unexpectedly was showered with gifts of food, offers to baby-sit and other demonstrations of support.

Somehow, death brings out the good in many people. People came in unasked to clean her house, and wash and fold laundry. Many of the other club women reported similar gestures when members of their family died.

Like theirs, my story was a report of kindness. When my husband and I lived in our first house and the children were small, we went to Minnesota on vacation one week.

Unfortunately, we had bought a house near the White River, not knowing it was in a flood plain. While we were away, the river flooded and someone phoned us to say we had three inches of water in our house. Rats.

We drove home immediately, expecting to find a terrible mess. And, indeed, the back yard was full of smelly mud and everything was soggy. But some kindly colleague at my husband’s office had mustered a crew of the guys to come over and clean out our house. They had propped up the furniture, scrubbed the floor and wiped off the walls where the water had risen. What a relief.

The club women all had more than one story to tell, and so did I. I recalled one Saturday when lightning struck our house while we were away and burned away much of the roof. Friends spread the word about our plight at the evening Mass. The next morning, 15 or 20 people showed up to help us remove furniture to the garage and clean up the mess. Some of them I’d never met before or talked with them since then.

One kindness in particular moved me because it was so subtle and effective. About three weeks after our son, Andy, died, I was ironing one Saturday while visiting with one of our other adult kids who had dropped by. My husband had gone to a ball game, invited by a friend to take his mind off things.

My son and I were trying to be cheerful for each other, but both of us felt incredibly sad.

When the doorbell rang, I was surprised to find our friend, Franciscan Sister Marie Werdmann, at the door. She came in and sat down, and we made small talk.

Finally, the three of us just sat in companionable silence, listening to the music on the radio. Somehow, Sister Marie’s sympathetic presence healed me more than any extravagant gestures could have done.

God’s love heals, strengthens and makes us hopeful beyond our cares. That is what we can do for others as well when we love as Easter people.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

Local site Links: