Tuesday, December 23, 2014
poinsettias and an unexpected christmas story
This year Paul and I will be staying home for Christmas. Work schedules and expensive plane tickets were going to make travel difficult, so we decided to have our own quiet Christmas. It'll be a little strange not having any family parties to attend, but one benefit I've noticed is that it's brought a nice simplicity to the holiday season. And with this simplicity, I've had more time to pay attention. I'm going to share an unexpected Christmas story that usually would have gotten lost in the craziness of finishing last minute plans, packing, and travel preparations.
One of my part time jobs involves planning service retreats and helping groups connect to local non-profits, mostly agencies that help with hunger and homelessness. When I first started the job this summer, I visited all the agencies on my list to connect with the directors and teach them about our retreats. Meeting inspiring hard working people that have dedicated their lives to helping the poor is one of the coolest parts of my job. One woman who ran a food pantry stood out to me in particular. She had such an infectious energy and greeted all of the pantry guests by name. Her coworkers obviously respected her, and she ran a very large pantry and meal program with grace and great leadership (a very difficult feat).
At the end of my visit she shared that she had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. She had either just completed a round of treatment or was just about to start treatment. I told her I'd keep in her my thoughts and truly meant it.
I didn't have any groups to send to her pantry for a while, so I didn't have a chance to see her for several months. When my agency gave me a pile of poinsettias to deliver to our partner agencies, I thought it would be nice to drop one off for the woman who ran the food pantry. When I entered the pantry, I didn't see her anywhere and asked a worker where she was. The answer: she's no longer with us. As in, she had passed away. Her breast cancer must have been more aggressive than she had thought, and just a few months after I had seen her looking healthy and alive, she had died. The news took me so off guard I almost started crying in the middle of the pantry!
Strangely enough, I had arrived with the poinsettia just an hour after her memorial service had ended. And in the middle of the pantry gathering space, a large group had stayed after the service to pack Christmas food baskets that would be passed out to the pantry guests the next week. Seeing everyone working - with the same energy I had seen the food pantry director working - was almost enough to put me over the edge. Her legacy was living on and her spirit was still present even if her physical presence wasn't.
I think of the message of Christmas - that goodness and hope and love are part of humanity - and I'm thankful I saw a glimpse of this. And I'm even more grateful that I had enough time and space to reflect on this and not let it pass me by. I think about how so many encounters and relationships make up my life - I only met this woman once yet I felt so sad at her passing. It reminds me that each person I meet, each relationship is a gift. And I'm truly grateful for that.