Monday, January 19, 2009

Kindness: an action word

Life is short and we have not much time for gladdening the hearts of those who travel the way with us. Oh, be swift to love, make haste to be kind!
-Henri Amiel

I had not realized until after the unexpected death of our mother, Betty Gallagher, early in the morning on Monday, November 10, that kindness is an action word.

My experience: While our family desperately hoped to arrive in Chico, California (where mom had lived for the past eight years with her identical twin sister) to see her one more time before her death, it was simply not possible. Instead of meeting at the hospital as we had imagined, we gathered at my aunt’s home, full of love, full of tears, full of stories.

As Monday unfolded we began to make plans to remember mom and take care of all the details associated with death. We decided to host a gathering of family and friends on Thursday late morning to celebrate her life and then invite everyone to stay for lunch. On Tuesday afternoon my cousin Barbara, who is about to retire from teaching grade school, called to tell us that the staff at her school would cater the lunch on Thursday. I promptly burst into tears.

On Tuesday Martha Dimmers, Chaplain at Children’s Hospital and friend of Queen Anne Christian Church, called to let me know that she and Peter Drury, former Pastor of All Pilgrims Christian Church and friend of QACC, would take care of worship on Sunday. Up to that point I had assured myself that I was fully capable of taking care of the needs my family and coming home to lead worship on Sunday.

On Wednesday Patty (my sister), Gary (my step-brother), and I invited the immediate family for lunch at the Sierra Nevada Tap Room. Mom and Auntie, sprightly ninety year olds, were “regulars” known by sight as “the girls.”

As usual we had a lovely meal and felt the table surrounded by love. We told more stories. We talked a little about what would happen on Thursday. Eventually Gary asked for the bill but our server was adamant: there would be no bill. This lunch was on-the-house, their gift to us in a time of loss.

On our way home we spent a little time in the Sacramento airport waiting for our flight back to Seattle. I was wrestling with a knitting project (my first two-color stranded knitting in the round) and in a fit uncorrectable mistakes I raveled the project back to the beginning probably for about the seventeenth time (I am not lying about that number!). It was a mess. Barb had wandered off for something and there I sat with a pile of tangled yarn trying to turn it all back into two balls.

An older woman sitting across the way noticed my distress and came and sat beside me. “Can I help?” She was dressed and looked pretty much like my mother! “Can I help?” By that time I had it more or less under control but she sat with me for a quite a while and held one ball while I worked on the other. “Thank you,” I said. “But I didn’t do anything,” she said. “You did more than you know,” I said.

When we arrived home in Seattle on Friday afternoon, Barb headed into work for a few hours. Our dear friend Maria Drury called. “I’ve made some lentil soup, may I bring it by?” So Maria, along with young daughters Rowan and Cora, stopped by to drop off everything needed for a simple meal and while we ate in grief, we also ate in love.

Kindness. In Micah 6:8 we are instructed to “seek justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.” I’d never thought much about the kindness piece of these instructions. Now I know: kindness is a simple action, unprompted, probably unexpected, and it makes all the difference in the world.

Laurie Rudel