Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ripple Effects of Caring

Roundabout connections. My grandma Crawford would’ve been 120 yesterday! She died in 1972 at the age of 81, so it’s funny to think of tallying her age to such an advanced number. But the habit stems from Memorial Days past. Our family visited the cemetery and decorated my grandfather’s grave, and the grownups would compute how old he would’ve been (“Let’s see, 1968 minus 1886 is … 82! He would’ve been 82.”) My 90-year-old mom has lived longer than both her parents; my grandfather was only 68 when he died in 1954, before I was born. In case you might get the impression otherwise from the next paragraph, Grandma was a very kind person. She made the effort to reconcile with people, to avoid gossip, and to "do good in secret."

Today is Groundhog Day. Meanly I guess, I always think it would be funny if Punxsatawny Phil would go into full Tazmanian Devil mode whenever the guys in top hats pull him from his home. (Put me back, you %$#&!!!) I always think of Grandma on Groundhog Day, too. She raised chickens, but groundhogs burrowed into the chicken house, so she--a woman in her seventies, in her house dress, hairnet, and apron--set out metal traps. I don’t remember if she ever killed any groundhogs, but once she found a possum tail in one of the traps. I felt sorry for the possum---but I’m not a determined farm wife! Grandma was so impressed that she put the possum tail in the freezer to show visitors.

Thinking about the holiday, I mused about other significance of February 2. It is Candlemas, the day of the presentation of Jesus at the Temple in Catholic and Orthodox traditions. A Facebook friend posted this: http://www.schooloftheseasons.com/candlemas.html It's not hard for me to remember Grandma's farm responsibilities and household chores and apply those memories to the images and potential devotions of Candlemas and the approaching Lenten season. If you're like me, you're always keenly aware of how very far short you fall as a Christian and how dependent we are upon God's mercy, love, and guidance. Church seasons can excellent times to seek God anew.

February 2 is also the feast day of several saints and blessed, including one fellow, St. Adalbald of Ostrevant, who was assassinated by his in-laws! (http://www.catholic.org/saints/f_day/feb.php) The saint listed first, though, was Jeanne de Lestonnac (1556-1640), whose cause was education--that's my kind of saint! Specifically, she founded several girls’ schools in France and also the order The Company of Mary Our Lady.

And the theme of education… takes me back to Grandma who, in her endearingly hard-headed way, was adamant that I should have a Bible dictionary. I was in junior high school at the time and she wanted me to have a good reference book. She and Mom found a Zondervan Bible dictionary at the local religious bookstore, and she gave it to me. In retrospect, I don’t think Grandma had much money: just her Social Security and her modest farm income. So I wonder if the book was a sacrifice to her. I was suitably grateful at the time, but more so later because I still use the handy book among my other reference books, and cite it among my publications. Perhaps readers have been influenced by my modest thoughts that were assisted by the book my grandma gave me forty years ago.

And… that takes me around to something I try to preach, live, and write about: the unlimited, positive influence we can have on others as the Holy Spirit guides. You never know the Spirit may use your acts of kindness and generosity to touch the lives of others, and how other people, so affected, will positively influence still other people. (Of course, our harsh words and thoughtless actions have a different kind of effect.) A good view of “saintliness” could be: a life of personal devotion and integrity, and especially (since our lives will always fall far short of perfection) a life of sensitivity to the ripple affects of caring.

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