Monday, October 21, 2013

When nothing special means everything

I recently had an opportunity to speak at my church, which was both nerve-wracking and exhilarating. Being in the season of stewardship, the idea was to have a few members of our parish talk about their story and what keeps them coming. Of anything I said (and possibly repeated, or forgot to say at all), one part of it stays with me this evening.

It is about Harriet.

Harriet was, most likely unbeknownst to her, the catalyst for our coming back after that first visit.  My little family was just about to relocate from Connecticut to this little coastal Maine town and we were church shopping. Really, it was more like church scoping, since there was only one Episcopal church in town. Apparently we had walked into a service a few minutes late with our two girls, ages 9 and 3, and the first thing we noticed was that there were no children.

None.

Attempting to not be in the limelight of latecomers, we slithered, mildly stunned, into a pew. It didn't occur to us that the kids were in Sunday School - they came bounding through the door about two thirds of the way into the service, joining parents, grandparents and friends for the rest of the time. It got a little less Twilight Zone then.

Prior to their arrival, I was delegated peacekeeper and spent the first 15 minutes trying to keep our youngest from catapulting herself across the church while her sister sat quietly, possibly worried for the fate of children who misbehaved, considering the lack of peers.

On the other side of our pew sat a very small, very stern looking woman. I wondered how much pull she might have - probably a long-standing member, maybe served on some board or another that controlled who got invited back and who got The Wave before they even thought about going to the after-service coffee hour.

Littlest chose to entertain herself by jumping up and down on the velvety kneeler, holding onto the back of the pew in front of us, which (thankfully) was empty.

Please, I pleaded silently (and maybe quietly to my child), please don't get us kicked out. Even if they don't have children (it was still early), maybe we can make some local connections. Maybe we can find out the best mechanic to use. Maybe we can learn where to grocery shop and what restaurants not to eat at. Please.

All of a sudden the stern little woman sitting on the other side reached over and lightly tapped my daughter's hand with one finger - just a quick touch - and then snatched her hand away. That got the attention of our three-year-old very quickly. She had pulled her own hand down from the pew in surprise at first.. but slowly she slipped it back on, curiously eyeing her neighbor. I was holding my breath when I looked over and realized that serious expression had turned into a glint of mischief.

Once again, like a blip on a radar, the woman's finger swiftly tapped that little hand and hid. My daughter was in heaven. The game went on for several minutes, and I found myself exhaling in relief. We found a friend. We were home.

That was Harriet. She was a sweet, tough, funny, fascinating lady whose big personality belied her tiny stature - it was hard not to notice her presence. When I spoke about her recently I never said her name... funny, because I had every intention of acknowledging her. She deserved credit for dividing and conquering the angst of our stumbling entrance, though she most likely wouldn't have wanted it. Harriet was just that way, and she would have said it was nothing special.

Before she drove off into the sunset in her sports car and moved to another state to be closer to family, she had opened the door for us for many friendships and wonderful memories. Years later people still remember her. I still remember her.

I aspire to be someone's Harriet at least a few times in my lifetime.

She didn't have to make an awkward situation bearable. It wasn't her job or even her business to care whether we came back or not. Harriet just did what some people do. She gave of herself in that moment.

Anyone can come across a Harriet, someone who helped us with the simplest things in the most stressful moments. Imagine if we all did that - reached out when it was least expected, made a situation easy for someone instead of making a path out of there to avoid the effort. I know, and maybe you know, how it feels to be the recipient of a simple kindness.

I believe we can do that for someone, be that "nothing special" that makes a difference.

Be someone's Harriet when you get the chance.



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