Every once in a long while, a random act of love touches us.
A long time ago, I was substitute teaching in a rural area of Alberta and had the unique opportunity to often sub in for teachers who served Hutterite colony schools. These school buildings were also the church, the hall, and the place where children attended German school.
Listen to me read this post:
I enjoyed working on these colonies. Never sequestered to the little schoolhouse, I was asked to join the women for wonderfully nap-inducing lunches in the dining hall. Or if I chose to work through lunch (an age-old teacher tradition), an obliging student brought lunch to me from the kitchen. At more than one colony, students and parents invited me to come see chickens, gardens, and baby lambs. I felt very welcomed.
The children on Hutterite colonies are refreshingly curious. I think because I was so young then and looked near the same age as some of the older girls, I was asked about my mother. My mom had died three years before this. My grief was something I’d been ignoring. It would cry out for attention, and I would smother it with a pillow or lock it in a closet or drown it in a well. But like the cat that came back, my grief consistently found its way home.
A surprised jolt shot through me at the question. Still, I answered simply, “My mother died.”
A little boy with big glasses and a serious face asked me, “How old was she?”
“She was 43. It happens that way sometimes.”
The boy shook his head slowly. “That is very young.”
“Yes, it is. But lots of people die younger than that.” At my feeble explanation of tragedy, he just looked at me sadly. I wonder now if my sorrow was more visible than I’d believed. Perhaps it was like I was wearing one of those tiny plastic Lone Ranger masks, trying to hide my feelings behind it while, directly behind me, lumbered a towering, weeping monster.
The school day went on and finally ended. The students left and I marked some of their assignments, and then packed up my teacher bag. I was retrieving my coat from the entrance and looked up when I heard the exterior door open. There stood my wise young friend with the big glasses. He held out a pie.
“My mother baked this for you because your mother died.”
Driving home from work the other day, I remembered this story and how that woman’s kindness touched me and how it’s stayed with me. That pie came from either the colony kitchen or from that mother’s own oven. I suspect that the dessert was not originally intended for me. I imagine that upon hearing my story brought home by that little old soul in black suspenders, a mother felt compassion for me and sent me their family’s sweet evening treat.
I’m deeply moved by this event, more now that I’m a lot older and a teeny bit wiser. The kind action of that student’s mother was sweet and sympathetic, and for the first time I felt like it was okay to grieve. I remember this as the moment that I removed the pillow, unlocked the closet, and fished my grief out from the depths of the well.
In the light of this stranger’s kindness, I finally felt that it was acceptable to grieve.