If you have not as yet tuned in to share in either our Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer, you will have missed what I said this Wednesday morning, which was, "It doesn’t cost much to be compassionate." Lots of little come together in order to form something magical and large. I also shared a story about a couple that asked what they could do to help those who may be in need. The purpose of my call was to check on them, but their first question was about those who may not be as fortunate as they were. They believed that their gift, however little it may be, would make a difference in another person’s life. The reality is that you wouldn’t know how big a difference that little gift can be until you offer that very same gift.
This reminds me about a story of two people, Mark and Bill. Mark was walking home from school one day when he noticed the boy ahead of him had tripped and dropped all of the books he was carrying, along with two sweaters, a baseball bat, a glove, and a small tape recorder.
Mark knelt down and helped the boy pick up the scattered articles. Since they were going the same way, he helped to handle part of the burden. As they walked, Mark discovered that the boy’s name was Bill, that he loved video games, baseball, and history, that he was having lots of trouble with his other school subjects, and that he had just broken up with his girlfriend.
They arrived at Bill’s home first, and Mark was invited in for a Coke and to watch some television. The afternoon passed pleasantly, with a few laughs and some shared small talk; Mark then went home. They continued to see each other around school, had lunch together once or twice, then both graduated from their junior high school.
They then ended up in the same high school, where they had brief contacts over the years. Finally, the long awaited senior year came and three weeks before graduation, Bill asked Mark if they could talk.
Bill reminded him of the day years ago when they had first met. “Did you ever wonder why I was carrying so many things home that day?” asked Bill.
“You see, I cleaned out my locker because I didn’t want to leave a mess for anyone else. I had stored away some of my mother’s sleeping pills and I was going home to commit suicide. But after we spent some time together talking and laughing, I realized that if I had done so, I would have missed that time we had, and so many others that might follow. So you see, Mark, when you picked up those books that day, you did a lot more - you saved my life.”
At our last Vestry meeting (which was conducted in cyberspace!) this past Tuesday, Rose Kirby reflected on some of the challenges that we’re all dealing with because of COVID-19. Even extroverts and introverts now have to find a new way of being. You and I have had to find a new way of being at home, and people are learning new ways of living and being with loved ones they used to barely see or interact with, or maybe used to see but for a few hours each day. Now, because of COVID-19, people are seeing more of each other - oftentimes more than we might all tolerate. People might be wondering if they’ve been living with their loved ones, or mere strangers. Because we saw little of each other, we didn’t have to deal with much, but now because of this pandemic, family relations are being put to the test and family narratives are changing.
In my case, I don’t remember spending as much time at home with my family since we moved to Maryland a few years ago. Like most families, we are used to being always on the move in our daily lives. But for COVID-19, I didn’t know that I could enjoy the company of my kids in such a meaningful way - laughing at each other, being silly, and simply being family. There’s always a gift worth discovering in the tragedies and struggles of our lives, not because we crave those tragedies or struggles, and certainly not because they seem to be the only time we learn a lesson. Far from that. For all it’s worth, like many tragedies and struggles, this, too has taught us a lot, has gifted us with a new reason for helping Bill pick up his stuff from the ground and to reach out to the other Bills who are part of our community and are hurting tremendously because of job loss, among other setbacks.
Many, many years ago, a friend of mine who had come to visit me shared with me a scripture verse: “All things work together for good for those that love the Lord.” I remember that moment like yesterday for it was the first time I ever heard that scripture. Over the years, I have found more than enough solace in those beautiful words, and especially at this time when we cannot congregate and celebrate God’s blessings on our lives like we’re used to. But the tremendous gift we have is our ability to be Mark, because Bill’s world has literally fallen through his fingers.
One important fact we ought not to miss as we go through this pandemic is that although our buildings remain closed until at least May 16th, we aren’t closed for business because compassion has no off days. As Bishop Sutton has encouraged us to do, Stay Calm. Stay Connected. Stay Church.
Like Mark, we will help Bill pick up his life from the ground with the conviction that all will work for good.