It started a few days ago when my family and I happened to be sitting at the same bar (Panera Bread--no, I did not take my four-year-old to a brewery) with a man who was waiting for someone. He was on the phone once or twice, always very pleasantly, and near the end of our visit there he addressed me and said that he and his wife had also adopted African American children, two girls who are now in their upper teens. It's not every day we meet another interracial family, so that's always cool. But it turned out that not only did he and his wife adopt through Bethany Christian Services like we did, but he's the chairman of the board of the Maryland district, where we happened to be eating. The chances of all of this happening must be one in, well, how many people live in Maryland? The man wasn't even from the area where we met, but he'd driven there for a meeting with a man who was lost and on his way.
For some reason, this encounter got me to thinking (not for the first time) about how the way we behave really does make a difference. What if he'd been grumbling and frustrated about his late breakfast meeting? What if I'd been irritated and short tempered with my son? It would have been an embarrassing situation at best and certainly not encouraging or remarkable. Who we are when we think no one is looking really is so important.
The next morning, I called a friend to see how her sister-in-law was doing, only to find out that the woman had passed away from cancer just a couple of hours previously. Of course I felt terrible for my friend and her family, but while in the grip of sympathy I felt the stirrings of a revelation that was connected with the meeting with the adoption agency man. My friend said that her sister-in-law wasn't just a family member, she was beloved and for a reason; she had been suffering with cancer for far too long, but she was the favored aunt because she had a way of making people feel special. This woman will be remembered for generations because despite her own struggles she made a point to love others in a way that was remarkable. How many of us could really say that?
This afternoon I received more tragic news. Dear family friends from my childhood were in a horrible car crash. The mother and daughter were killed, and the father is in a coma, last I knew. I haven't been in contact with them in fifteen years, and really it's been more like twenty-five since I really spent any time around them, and yet the news struck me so intensely… I wondered if it was just the culmination of many things put together, or that maybe I was struggling with the terms of mortality, but it didn't take long for me to understand that I'm not grieving for myself, and maybe not even for the family left behind--I'm grieving because the world is awfully short on people who truly make it a brighter place, and it's lost a few in the past two days.
How many of us are so kind, patient, enthusiastic, and loving that twenty years from now, people who knew us when they were children will look back and still remember what a great positive impact we had on them? These people were so loving and patient with their disabled daughter that I didn't even realize she had a disability until later in life. I'm sure they had stress involved with it (I can't be the only one) but they handled it with such grace… and taught Bible classes and songs, and served, and laughed, and loved so wholeheartedly that it made a real impact on my church, family, and me as an individual growing up. I was fortunate enough to have quite a few people like that in my early years, and I can't help believing they have helped make me into a much better person than I would have been otherwise.
My challenge to myself and to you: be so genuinely kind, patient, enthusiastic, and loving that fifty years from now--or whenever we die--people all over will mourn our passing not simply because we're a reminder of their own mortality, but because we were so bright that they can't comprehend a world without us. And maybe our light will encourage them to carry on in our places.