A few week’s ago, I attended an “old neighborhood” reunion. As I printed directions to this gathering, I could not help indulging in a stroll down Memory Lane. During the drive south, I wondered which of my classmates would attend. By the time I arrived, I had decided that being surprised would be the best part of the fun.
I’m happy to say that I was not disappointed. In spite of the reality that those of us in attendance have evolved with our ages over the years, I managed to recognize most of my classmates without support from their nametags. These fellow alums proved to be nice kids who matured into even nicer adults.
About ninety minutes into the festivities, most of us gravitated to tables where we sat and caught up with one another’s lives. My rediscovered friend Dan asked if any of us had visited the old neighborhood in recent history. I couldn’t resist sharing my adventure from a few years ago.
During an attempt to create a wall display of our childhood homes, I found that I had no photo of my family’s home on Lockwood Avenue. My husband and I drove to Chicago’s West Side to take a picture for ourselves. When we arrived, a woman came out of the house. I didn’t want to alarm her, so I told her that I once lived in the house and that I was hoping to take a picture of it. She smiled and asked, “Were you one of those six kids and didn’t you have a big black dog?” When I responded in the affirmative, she added, “My parents bought this house from your parents. I remember your family members because my parents had six kids and a dog, too.” Suddenly, it all came back to me. My mother was brokenhearted when she and my dad decided that the time had come to leave our big old house. We had all left home by then and they were alone to manage the upkeep. Before I could continue my musing, the young woman asked, “Would you like to see the inside?” I offered a most grateful “yes” as she turned to open the door and lead us in.
Memories flooded my mind and tears flooded my eyes. As she guided us from room to room, I saw that this woman’s parents had managed to complete all of the remodeling that my parents’ meager income allowed them only to dream of. “I can hardly wait to tell my mom about this!” I told her as we departed. “Thank you so much!” What a gift it was to realize that the apparent differences between our two families were only external. What a gift it was to know that all my parents hoped to do for us had come to fruition at the hands of another couple who wanted the same for their children.
Though my rediscovered friend was impressed by this encounter, he remarked, “Have I got a story for you!” Dan went on to share that his older brother celebrated his sixtieth birthday seven years ago. Since this sibling was the first to reach this milestone, Dan wanted to make his brother’s birthday memorable. Though he realized he planned to make a ridiculously imposing request, Dan called the family who had purchased his parent’s home thirty years earlier. He explained to the woman who answered the phone that this was a very special birthday which he hoped to celebrate by revisiting his family’s longtime residence. “Would you give us two hours?” he asked. “Just two hours.” The reply was immediate. “Yes. We can do that for you.” Thinking better of his plan, Dan asked the woman to please check with her own family before committing as this would be a huge imposition upon all concerned.
A day later, the woman called to offer her welcome to Dan and his family once again. When Dan and his siblings arrived at the appointed time, they were warmly greeted by a family of smiling faces and a table filled with good food and drink to share. The smile that Dan could not contain indicated to me that he has never let go of his gratitude for the kindness of the wonderful people who have made his one-time family home their own.
I share these adventures with you because scripture readings from Numbers (11:25-29) and Mark’s gospel (9:38-43, 45, 47-48) underscore God’s intent to make all people members of God’s Family, recipients of Divine love and purveyors of service to those in need. Ours is the God who seeks unity among us in spite of and because of our likenesses and our differences. That unity is best expressed in good works and the gracious hearts from which these works flow. Could it be that God is especially pleased when we surprise others -and ourselves– with the amazing ways we express God’s love to one another?
©2012 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved