“Good Morning!” said the hearty warm voice of Colleague T. when I answered the phone. “In a few minutes I’ll be at Friends Bench. Can’t wait to see you!”
I sat with phone in hand, blinking stupidly at my computer screen, where a cascading chain of misunderstandings at work called for immediate attention and assistance. Of course, the logical Yankee Anglo etiquette would be to cancel our lunch and explain to T. that something came up at the office.
Friends Bench is a garden seat at the Society of Friends Meeting House. For years, Colleague T. and I have met there to lunch and chat. Colleague T. is a resilient, generous, caring, upbeat woman of faith committed to family, church, and charities. In retirement she is busier than ever with worthwhile well-organized activities. Her aura is radiant and poised, with fabulous taste in earrings and accessories. She has faced life’s adversities with a positive outlook of charity and hope, and always has good energy and uplifting words to share.
One week in advance, Colleague T. texted me suggesting a Friends Lunchfest for October 11th. Great! I happily added her to my calendar for November 11th. In anticipation, I thought how nice it would be to meet on Veterans’ Day, so we could spend our work holiday in good fellowship without either of us hurrying back to the office.
But at that moment, on the right day wrong month, the truth was that I felt shy about seeing anyone at all. And Colleague T. was especially discerning and insightful. It would be hard to keep up appearances for a whole hour, and to hide from her how discouraged I was feeling about life.
On the phone, with a heavy heart, I confessed to her that I was held up working at home, and was not actually near our meeting place. To my surprise, she said “Well, would you like to meet somewhere else? I’ll drive right over!”
I suggested meeting outside my apartment to begin with. That idea came with some real trepidation; what if T. thought my hospitality was disrespectfully slapdash and half-hearted? After all, I had no refreshments prepared, my studio was in no shape for guests and neither was I, and the clouds were about to pour rain. But she cheerfully agreed to come right over. Fortunately, that gave me exactly enough time to tackle the email chain and set the communication issues to rest. Then T. and I met downstairs, I found a couple of lawn chairs near the garden, and we carried them under the trees.
And then, somehow the whole picture changed.
In a flash, Captain Wing materialized out of thin air with plushy towel in hand, and wiped down the chairs before vanishing back in the house. In another flash, Mrs. Wing sprinted outside to hand me a big bag of her fresh picked garden vegetables. As if on cue, one endearing neighbor after another and a cat or two headed past on their errands, and every one stopped with friendly greetings in a community-wide demonstration of good will. It was better than watching a Sunday promenade from a café in Paris. The storm clouds parted in dramatic manner, and tremulous autumn sunshine burst out on the nasturtiums, calendula, marigolds, geraniums, and Mrs. Wing’s fuchsias and flowering ginger. Goldfinches gathered in the pines overhead in a sweet warbly chorus, and hummingbirds zizzed around.
In this magically charming setting I confessed my calendaring mistake. Because our jobs depended upon accurate calendar scheduling for ourselves and others, we had a good laugh. Then somehow I went right on confessing, about how discouraged and useless I felt, as a person with not much function or meaning in anybody else’s life. Colleague T. caught my drift right away. After listening and hearing me out she responded with honesty and clarity. She talked about her own search for meaning after her hardworking career, and now that her grandchildren were virtually grown up with busy accomplished lives of their own. She was pursuing and exploring plenty of service opportunities, but was still searching for God’s calling for this stage of her life now. In particular, how could she really live the Gospel to witness to others who needed it most?
It was such an all-absorbing talk that I braved a suggestion that she come upstairs to my place — as the first guest to set foot in the door since the Age of Covid. We went upstairs. “This studio is clean enough and tidy,” I pointed out. “But — time was, I always had soup on the stove and bread in the oven ready for anyone to stop by. Now look. Half of it’s file boxes and a laundry rack and cartons of pandemic canned goods. It’s not a home; it’s a room with someone who has given up on her own life. Sure, there’s customer service work all day long, and church, and always neighbors with errands and chores and messages to share. But after a whole day of interaction I come up to this room and think ‘Is that it? I don’t really belong to anybody. What’s the point of my life?'”
Well, T. must have been inspired then. She shared the best and soundest Bible teaching for anyone who feels isolated and alone. All of it reminded me that here from the earthly view we can’t grasp what a difference we make in the lives of others, or how much meaning our lives really have, or what treasures are stored up in heaven. “And as for the room,” she added at one point, “arrange it for your self. It matters!”
That simple idea was hard to grasp. The room? For myself?
But one thing was clear. “God sent you a month early,” I told her. “And you certainly brought Bible teaching to me. This was a real fellowship call on someone who needs it.”
As we said goodbye and she drove away, I realized I’d forgotten to give T. some of Mrs. Wing’s vegetables to take home!
Ever since that talk with T., life has felt different in a good way. It’s still grief every day. But praying, working, falling asleep, waking up, all of it is 10% better. These dear neighbors and community members look even more dear. Friendship with T. is even deeper and warmer for the future. There are even new little changes in this living space, but that’s a story for a later day.
That night, it was heartening to discover this verse. It went right in my Bible notebook as a memento of our visit:
Exhort one another daily, while it is still called Today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end. — Hebrews 3:13-14
Looks as if Colleague T. has that new ministry she was praying about. She certainly ministered to me.