Monday, January 18, 2010

Her Best Experience: An Accidental Story (true)

Her Most Unforgettable Experience.
An accidental story three days ago.

This past Friday after about an hour of skiing (first time since turning 80), my legs gave out and although the spirit was willing the body could not oblige. After a short lunch about noon, my wife, her sister and friend returned to skiing while I headed for the warm fireplace in the lodge, hoping it was not crowded.

I did not expect to wait long as my party said they wanted a few more runs. Luckily they found some good runs and had about 8 and did not return for an hour. Luckily there was only one other person sitting in front of the fireplace, a woman about 60 years old. After a few minutes since we were alone, we introduced ourselves. Her husband, several children and grandchildren were skiing and she was not a skier. In response to her How are you greeting, when I answered Blessed, it opened up the conversation to masters of faith. Her first name was Billy. In a few minutes she told me she was Catholic.

When people identify their faith, my first curiosity is what that means to them, so I asked my usual question, How does that engage you? After a pause, she told me this story. She belonged to St. Cecilia’s in Oakley, a Cincy suburb, now really mixed. About 20 years ago, when preparing thanksgiving dinner, she wondered about those who would not have family to sit down with, elderly couples whose children had moved away, new couples just moved to the area without family, etc. She wondered to the pastor whether they should do anything for these peo0le at Thanksgiving. Her pastor said Go for it. The first year they had 13, second year 26, third 50. Each time the pastor encouraged her, so the project got bigger. Now they have about 800 t0 900 and the community feast is also extended to Christmas day as well as Thanksgiving. She spoke mater of fact as if simply relating the story. When I was impressed, she told me more of the details, They now had many volunteers and the rule was the volunteers had to set down and eat with the guests, so no one could be sure who were the guests and who were not.

The story was so intriguing that I started hoping my skiing family would not return soon, and they obliged, later apologizing for staying so long. Blessing in disguise, for the next question I asked Billy was What has been your best experience ever?
She hesitated, saying that was hard because she had 4 children and 9 grandkids. Then she touched her heart, her eyes got wet and said she once had a Revelation of grace that was totally unexpected and totally unforgettable.

After about ten years of the community Thanksgiving dinners, there as a woman who was a regular, always wore the same clothes. Her name was Em, simply Em. She described her.
She was a big woman, and the right side of her face was disfigure from something, she did not know what. She would hang around Billy, trying to be helpful. Billy said she was slow so could not be trusted to do much. She confided once to Billy that she wanted to become a Paramedic, but Billy thought nothing about this. One Thanksgiving about five years Billy gave there the job of picking up plates, telling her to be careful not to pick them up until the persons were finished and then needed to show her exactly what to do with them. They both went about their business.

Then Billy notice a strong sight, a street person, dirty, unkempt, unshaven, dirty clothes was siting in front of a very large plate of food, not eating a bite, but simply staring into space. No interaction with anyone. Billy went over to sit beside him to try to see what was the matter, asking if food was okay, could she get him anything else, etc. But he did not turn his head, or respond, simply gazed into space. She did not know if he as on drugs, spaced out or what , but since he was not bothering anyone, she instructed volunteers simply to leave him alone.

She went on about her task of being the Main Hostess, but after several minutes was drawn back to that part of the room, where several had gathered together. As she approached she saw the street person had turned sideways and leaning down, was talking animatedly with the woman in front of him. As she got closer she was amazed to find Em kneeling in front of him with a large pan of water and soap washing his feet.

When Em finished the washing, she want to the kitchen for a
first Aid kit and spread a salve or ointment on his angles and feet. Then she went back to the kitchen, and with the authority of a prophet asked all the men to come over to her . When they gathered, she asked Who here has the best and warmest socks? Surprised by the question, the men volunteers began raiding their trousers legs and comparing each other socks. Finally, one of the men said It looks like I do.

Take them off and give them to me, Em said. And he did without even asking a question, it had seemed so authoritative a request. Billy watched as Em took the warm socks, best in the kitchen to place them on the street guy’s feet.....She could hardly believe what was happening.

Billy had tears in her eyes as she told me this story. It, she said was the most amazing thing I ever saw. I was deeply moved, touched my own heart, and said the two neediest people at the dinner found and healed each other.

Billy nodded. Nothing like that has ever happened since.

God’s Grace, we both agreed. Both of us moved to tears.
What a human mystery! Em while collecting empty plates must have noticed the only person not eating. What led her to approach him? How did she do it? Sir, your feet are stinky. Can I change your shoes? What made him respond to her and no one else? What prompted the socks episode?

When no one else would listen to her aspiration to become a paramedic, she took it on herself to become a spontaneous healer, finding someone who, at least in retrospect, needed something special on that particular day. Unforgettable, indeed. Maybe God’s grace is to be found everywhere if we are awakened.

I end with the saying of the ancient poets under the five kings of Ireland: "take it, and may the next who tells it, tell it better."

An accidental meeting and an unforgettable story. I was sure glad my ski buddies were late. The fireplace was warm and toasty but not as heart warming as the accidental story that happened that day nearby.

Paschal Baute, Monday evening, three days later. Thank you
Billy, I have used your real name and the name of your parish.
I thin you would not mind the story being told. Only
em’s name is not factual. January 18, 2010