Love: 10 Uses You May Not Know

Love you! Love you, too!

These words are heard everywhere. Between friends at the shopping mall or school parking lot as they take leave of one another, spoken into cell phones (loud enough for all to hear) or typed in the comment section of a million facebook posts. When this “Love you!” trend first started, I was disgusted and vowed not to partake of the casual, insincere tossing about of the word “love”. It seemed to trivialize the meaning.

However, I have lately changed my mind. Maybe the addition of the word “love” to our everyday vocabulary isn’t a bad thing.  Maybe we need all the love tossed about in this world we can get. Because love is a thing. A real thing. It’s powerful and mighty and is one of the last defenses we have against despair. Why not pass it around to as many people as we can?

It was many years ago when my husband and I were in the midst of parenting our young children. Back then, it seemed that as a society, we tried to shelter children from too much adult information or ideas which would confuse them during the tender stages of becoming people. I held to thisbutterfly_flower_02_hd_pictures belief and still think that parents should be the filter through which young children learn important life lessons. That being said, communication is tricky, even with one’s own children. During this fledgling stage of our family, we were friends with several couples who were in the same boat. We always shared the happy news of expected babies and celebrated recent births with our children. Things got a little complicated when an unmarried friend got pregnant, the kids were curious how this worked since she wasn’t married like the other parents in our lives. It was too early for “the birds and the bees” or any other weighty  discussions, so I told them that she and her boyfriend loved each other…therefore, a baby. My youngest son apparently latched onto this theory, because he applied it later when trying to understand another new situation. We had a friend who miscarried when she was 6 months along in her pregnancy. My son knew she had been pregnant and when we told him the grievous news, he immediately questioned, “why would the baby die?”. As my mind worked to choose the right words, I saw the look of sad realization dawn in his eyes. He thought he had the answer. “The mommy and daddy stopped loving each other?”

 

 In his mind, it was love between the parents that created that new baby and without the love, the baby couldn’t live.

 

It was actually sound logic. After all, I told him that babies were brought into the world as a result of the parents’ love. So it would only follow that without the love…the baby couldn’t survive. I assured him that the parents did indeed still love one another and that there were reasons couples sometimes lost beloved children, but I’ve thought about his theory often throughout the years. How many other things have trouble surviving without love? Families? Relationships? Peace? Compassion? It is evident all around us. Love is so powerful, that the lack of it is making a mess of our world. What makes love so powerful? Simply put:

Love is God. And God is All Powerful

Anything is possible with Love. So I say, let’s hear more voices proclaiming love! Love everywhere, love in all things. Let’s rack our brains to come up with new uses for love…

as a lifeboat,

as a shield,

as a cocoon,

as a butterfly net,

as a remedy,

as a beacon,

as an answer.

Let’s hold one another up with love and send it shooting through throngs of strangers!

Let’s remind our children that they were created by love and that love from God will never, ever stop.

God is Love.

Love is real.

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Part Two: Interlude from “A Road to Laurel”

by Donna Mills

The followiDonnang is part two of an interlude in the book, “A Road to Laurel,” which tells the story of a black man’s trial for alleged rape of a white woman.  Although the story is about my father’s defense of the man, I included interludes that spoke of my own experience with race and prejudice. This one includes my experience in the Orthodox Church, with Fr. Moses as my priest.  His oversight of my striving to shed any of my own prejudices was mostly silent and non-judgmental, which gave me the room in which to grow and a perfect model to follow.

 

Interlude III – cont’d

 

In the book “Black Boy,” written in 1943 by a native Mississippian, Richard Wright, about his life as an African American raised in the South, he bemoans the fact that the white culture experiences such different day to day life from the black. He wrote that the white culture has no idea how the black man has to adjust his nature to fit in. From his perspective, while he had “All my life…done nothing but feel and cultivate my feelings,” the white youth had “all their lives done nothing but strive for petty goals, the trivial material prizes of American life. We shared a common tongue, but my language was a different language from theirs.” It was true that he had suffered in certain ways, while it appeared that they no suffering at all. In fact, it may have been true that the shallowness he saw in their souls, which he described as “…like the syllables of popular songs,” was an accurate comparison of their experience compared to his – a life filled with hunger and disappointments, a life of fear and unwarranted reproach. As a young adult, Wright joined the Communist Party and felt that it had the answers for living in peace in this nation. Even there, however, he found himself to be misunderstood and finally, an outcast. After finding himself utterly alone, watching a Communist march he had been thrown out of, he wrote:
“My thoughts seemed to be coming from somewhere within me, as by a power of their own: It’s going to take a long and bloody time, a lot of stumbling and a lot of falling, before they find the right road. They will have to grope about blindly in the sunshine, butting their heads against every mistake, bruising their bodies against every illusion, making a million futile errors and suffering for them, bleeding for them, until they learn how to live.”
Wright spoke of a spiritual blindness, and hoped that his words would “…create a sense of the hunger for life that gnaws in us all, to keep alive in our hearts a sense of the inexpressibly human.”
Fr. Moses, whose great-grandfather was a slave, taught our congregation that the fathers of our Church spoke of suffering as the way to follow Christ, to win the freedom, peace and joy our souls hope for. He also told us that the old gospel tunes that the slaves sang held a deep spirituality that came from their suffering. He displays in his African American Heritage Museum in Ash Grove, Missouri an iron neck clamp that had been passed down in his family, as well as slave dogtags for remembrance of the cruelty that took place.
Yet, the Socialistic or Communist approach, which seemed to promise suffering for none and appeared to champion the minorities, in the end yields only empty surfeiting and enslavement to its system. I puzzled, as my Dad must have, to determine how to find the “True North,” until I found the saving Grace of faith.
Attempting to convey the substance of this lesson to my children, I read to them from “Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry,” by Mildred Taylor. They cuddled beside me to hear a nightly chapter of the tale of a black family in Jackson, Mississippi whose children walked to a school just down the way from my elementary school, both named “Jefferson Davis Elementary,” but one was for black children and one for white, who were privileged to ride the bus. My three children found it hard to understand why, and wondered at the family’s plight. The words of wisdom from the family’s mother gave perspective:
“Baby, we have no choice of what color we’re born
or who our parents are, or whether we’re rich or poor.
What we do have is some choice over
what we make of our lives once we’re here.

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

by Donna MillsDonna

The following is part one of an interlude in the book, “A Road to Laurel,” which tells the story of a black man’s trial for alleged rape of a white woman.  Although the story is about my father’s defense of the man, I included interludes that spoke of my own experience with race and prejudice. This one includes my experience in the Orthodox Church, with Fr. Moses as my priest.  His oversight of my striving to shed any of my own prejudices was mostly silent and non-judgmental, which gave me the room in which to grow and a perfect model to follow.

 

 

Interlude III

I surprised the family in my young adulthood by making a 180 degree turn and committing my life to spiritual discipline. It looked as though the seeds of influence planted by my grandmother had somehow survived and taken root, saving me from the road to perdition I had earlier started on. I converted to Orthodox Christianity and joined myself to a church whose African-American Priest, Fr. Moses, I greatly admired. I prided myself on the lessons learned from my Mom and Dad, and I believed myself to be non-prejudiced. Ironically, the small congregation was mostly white, as was Fr. Moses’ wife. The differences in our color of skin made no difference to me, but I ran into troubles with one of the few black ladies in the church.

Shelia had a propensity for getting under my skin, as she seemed to have a chip on her shoulder, and would engage me in conversations with what I considered a cynical and opinionated view.  I wondered if her attending an all-white women’s college in Mississippi precluded her cynicism, or it had been inbred through a family who desperately wanted to infuse self-esteem into their intelligent girl, who would otherwise have been vulnerable to the lack of opportunities she would find for herself in the society of the South. Whatever the case, I must have symbolized to her the privileged Southern white girl, and it may have been hard for her to see me as anything different.

I went to Fr. Moses to confess my irritation and lack of ability to love for my sister in the church. He kindly suggested that we go out together and have some fun – just get to know each other.  Easy enough, I thought. However, Sheila was not delighted at the prospect to get to know me. Either she didn’t think I was really worth the time or money for a frivolous outing – she was a single mother with tight funds – or she was as timid about what the intimacy might bring to light as I was. Then there was the deciding of what we should actually do. Watching a movie together sounded non-threatening. She suggested Spike Lee’s new movie – “Do The Right Thing.” Thinking I would be caught up in a heated racial discussion, I hedged.  I offered to see “Dead Poet’s Society,” only because of my admiration of the comedian, Robin Williams. Her equally oppositional reaction to seeing a movie about a rich white boys’ private school took me by surprise. Both offended, we decided to put the outing on hold.  After some time she called back, possibly after talking to Fr.  Moses herself, and we agreed to go to a local Indian concert she had seen in the paper.

On the way, we chuckled as we realized that we didn’t know if we were going to a concert of Native American people or folks from India. The issue was cleared when we saw the women in their beautiful saris and the sitars carried under their arms, I felt somewhat awkward and out of place as those dressed properly for this event paused at our jeans. Sheila was used to being a minority, however, and returned my nervous glance with a stoic one of her own. We eventually found our way to the auditorium and took our seats. After a brief welcome and introduction of the musicians, the room darkened. The first performer, a young woman, walked on stage and seated herself on a pillow.  With sitar in lap, she began to play to a hushed audience – one string at a time. The reverberation of the music seemed to stun the crowd and as we heard deeply felt utterances from the people around us, we glanced sideways at each other to catch some understanding of what everyone seemed to be so in awe of.  Sheila shrugged at my questioning eyes, and we turned our attention back to the performance. Although we were used to listening to flowing music with a little action and melody, we attempted to open our senses to the mystical sounds of this strange instrument. Truly, there was beauty in the sounds, but when the crowd once again began to ooh and ahh in amazement at the twang of a single string, Sheila and I again looked at each other for a clue of what we should be amazed of. She was the first one to let a laugh slip, and I, too, failed when attempting to conceal mine.  We were instantly corrected by the frowns of those seated in front of us, who turned to see who could be so impudent.  We silently mouthed an agreement after a few more compulsive chuckles to leave after the performer had finished a set.

The laughter and conversation that followed brought Sheila and I closer together than we had ever been, though we never really acknowledged that this bond came about by our mutual lack of understanding of yet another culture in our midst.  At least we had learned an unspoken lesson together of what it is like not being able to relate to another race outside the mere black/white split.  We understood that being a part of our cultures alone had a great impact on our inability to communicate another culture’s “language,” no matter if our words were the same, or if we both bought our groceries at the same corner store.  There were generations behind each of us whose cultural nuances were unconsciously carried in the makeup of our thoughts as well as our genetics.  There were values and goals that had their own familial roots, traditions and foods which might seem strange to others.  How would we learn to be truly unprejudiced?

 

Beware of Swimming in the Ocean

by Michele Latham

st patrice

I made gifts for my children for Nativity this year.  Altoid tins, paper icons, paint, embellishments and lots of glue. Voilà! A miniature shrine for each patron saint. Did I mention that my five kids are practically grown? Ages range from 19 to 25? No matter, the idea would have been the same if they were toddlers or adults. It’s always been my job to pray for them and encourage them to pray.

If you’re a parent in the middle of raising youngsters right now, it may be hard to imagine them grown up. But it happens. So fast! I remember thinking I had plenty of time to prepare my children (and myself) for the day they left home. My husband and I talked with them about finances, auto maintenance, and other practical matters to top off the years of parental guidance we had already administered.  And now I think about those sons and daughters daily and pray for God’s mercy and guidance as they live their grown up lives.

Sometimes, I picture the kids going about their daily activities and my imagination kicks in.  Random, disturbing thoughts occur to me. Did I warn them of the dangers? Did I tell the children to be cautious about certain things? Things like using credit cards too much, slamming the brakes on wet pavement, trusting the wrong person… swimming in the ocean?

And then I wonder if I reminded them to watch for beauty when they’re out on their own.  Did I advise them to embrace the good things they’ll find? Things like independence, health, new friendships and… swimming in the ocean?

These thoughts pass quickly though, and I don’t worry too much. I pray for my grown children and give my opinion if they ask. But mostly, I trust God. I may not have covered all the dos and don’ts of adult life with my kids, but I’m sure they know to love God and love others.

 

My confidence doesn’t come from the great job I did teaching them. Nor did I set a perfect example. But, our family did attend  Divine Liturgy throughout those formative years, the children received Holy Communion and listened to the words of our loving pastor.

 

Mary Shrine

It gives me joy to see the icon corners in their new homes and apartments and to know that they are praying. But all of this is not to say that the road for them will be smooth or that they won’t forget what they know from time to time. That is why I made the shrines. I want them to remember that they have help available when they pray these words to their saints:

“Pray unto God for me, O Holy (N.), well-pleasing to God: for I turn unto you, who are the speedy helper and intercessor for my soul.”

 

Birth Experience

by Michele Latham

my_lil_nieces_hand_564124

It seems like yesterday, but really it was 20 years ago.  I was sitting in my kitchen chatting with the midwife. My due date had come and gone a few days previously and we were tired of talking about when this baby would show up. The midwife brought up an interesting topic. I think it was her effort to distract me for a while. She had delivered over 700 babies and had some great stories. What she explained to me then was the idea that a child can actually remember his or her own birth experience for a time.  I laughed, but she insisted that an especially articulate youngster should be able to tell you about being born! Wanting to test her theory, I called my two year old son over. “Luke”, I said, “do you remember when you were born?”

 

Without pause, he shouted out, “Yes! Father Michael dunked me in the water!” He scampered off and I was left nodding my head. Of course! He was a year old when we were baptized into the Orthodox Church and he knew that was his birth experience.

 

 

I remember feeling a bit flustered the day of our baptism. My husband and I, along with several patient godparents, juggled squirming children, towels, baptismal robes, and candles.  The words of the prayers seemed a bit blurred by the practical tasks of getting the kids baptized. I was nervous. I was worried that something would go wrong. But underlying all of that earthly care was the understanding that what was happening to us was real. It was much more than a symbolic act or mere profession of faith. It was a sacred event, attended by saints and angels and we were being initiated into Christ’s Church. We were becoming new. It was the beginning of a life in Christ complete with happiness, sorrow, struggles, joys, forgiveness and God’s mercy.

 

baby baptism

 

I love attending baptismal services now because it reminds me of all these things.  The church family gathers expectantly around the font. If a baby cries, my friends and I glance at each other and smile, remembering our own children. And if an adult candidate gasps a bit in reaction to the water temperature, we nod in sympathy. The newly illumined may not comprehend every word of the service, but that doesn’t mean the miracle of baptism isn’t taking place. And for the rest of us, our joy comes in being able to witness and participate in this holy sacrament. We listen carefully to the words of the priest and are comforted to know these are the same prayers have been prayed for each of us.

 

 

Choose the Good

by Michele Latham

When my kids were young and we were in the midst of the read-aloud years, I was pretty choosy about what books I brought home. I missed so many of the classics as a child (hello, English teachers?) that I felt as though I discovered child_and_books_208363a new and amazing world with my kids. We devoured books. We had a read-aloud time built into our home school day. And of course there was story time before bed. Some mornings we opted to start the day with reading…okay, we read all the time! And now that they are grown, we share a cultural reference that binds us together. We laugh at the same type of Dickensian humor.  And spend hours discussing the merits of the latest Lord of the Rings movie or Sherlock Holmes adaptation.

Our reading choices weren’t only limited to classics. But I really wanted to check out an author or book before I brought it home. I am a firm believer that what we put into our minds, stays there. Children and adults alike. The arguments “it’s just a story, it’s not real” or “it’s not a great subject, but it’s entertaining” just don’t fly with me. It’s really hard to un-see something and everything we put into our minds also touches our hearts.

So when current authors published fantasy books that seemed appealing or a certain series of kids’ books were flying off the shelves, I took a hard look. What I found was that I couldn’t base my choices on what might be potentially harmful, but I could base them on what was potentially good. Rather than asking what was wrong with a book (as many critics like to do) I started asking what was right. What was good. 

I knew that the classics we loved had stood the test of time. We were challenged by the vocabulary, thrilled by the plots, shocked by the villains and inspired by the noble and good characters. Books that fit this description are still being written, they are just a little harder to find. And as Christians, we have to be discerning.

The conclusion I came to (as you probably guessed) is that choosing the good is an idea that should apply to all aspects of our lives, not just our reading habits. I knew I couldn’t shelter my children from all the bad things in the world, but I could choose the good whenever possible. Books, movies, activities, friends…

Remember Philippians 4:8:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Choose the Good.

 

 

 

Love Lives…at the Public School

by Michele Latham

apple_with_heart_565561

A public school can be an unfriendly place. There are constant deadlines, misunderstandings, peer pressure, and the ever-present feeling of being judged and criticized. And I’m referring to the teachers! Students, of course, have their own set of challenges and struggles and it sometimes seems that the system is designed to discourage children and staff alike.

One may question how love can survive in such an atmosphere.I’ve come to realize it is one of the best arenas in which to practice Christ’s command to love one another. My opinion has been formed through watching a certain history teacher, my husband, as he uses the power of love every day in his job. He may not love the current climate of the public school system, or the random drug testing of his students, or being a part of yet another non-education related committee. But he loves those high school kids every day.

He uses a respectful manner of teaching and engaging with the students. Many of them have been negatively labeled before they get to his class (lazy, stupid, discipline problem, bad home situation, etc). He makes a point of ignoring the labels and treating each one like an actual person! Although he can’t exactly teach about Orthodoxy ( he sneaks in as much as he can in Western Civilization class), his actions are based on Christ’s teachings.

There are ups and downs as the classes progress each semester. Some days he comes home questioning if teaching is the best job for him. Then the year ends and it’s time to say good-bye to the seniors. It never fails, a few of the students write thank you notes to him. And they always go something like this:

“I can’t begin to tell you how thankful I am for having the wonderful opportunity to have you as a teacher and role model. You have had a tremendous impact on me and my life. I have learned so much from you and your classes. Not only have I learned about history, but about life and how to live it. I can only hope to have teachers at the University that teach like you do, that care about students like you do, and that question things like you do. You’re one of my biggest heroes.”

It is amazing to me that there are kids who take the time to put into words their gratitude for him. I don’t think they will realize until later that what they learned from their teacher was not history, or politics or even how to appreciate good roots music, but rather they learned how to love. How to use a situation or a job (even one that seems less than ideal) as an opportunity to minister to others.

I must remind myself to look for opportunities in my everyday life to serve others and I see from my husband’s example that there are opportunities all around me. Standing in church with my brothers and sisters I’m aware that they are busy looking for opportunities also. In fact, I am thinking that the title of this post could just as easily have been:

 
Love Lives…

at the Office
at the Construction Site
at the Library
at the Gym
at the Hospital
at the University
at the Winery
at the Farm
at Home

We have only to look for it.

 

 

Opposite Day, Everyday!

by Michele Latham

 

The idea of Opposite Day is that everything we say or do is the opposite of what it hot-fudge-sundae-23-450x565normally is. So, saying “I love housework” on opposite day really means I hate it. And “I won’t be eating a hot fudge sundae today” means…well, you know! There are several countries which have designated unofficial holidays for Opposite Day! Kids love this way of thinking, but I think it unsettles adults a little. After all, we are creatures of habit and have had many years to establish our thoughts in a certain way.

 
The idea of opposite thinking came to mind a few week ago when I went to visit a sick friend in the hospital. The events leading up to the visit were typical of when a brother or sister is ill. I heard about the trouble this friend was having and the thought occurred to me, I should go visit her. Take her something. Let her know I’m thinking of her. So that’s what I did. Poor thing, she would be happy to have a visitor and take comfort in knowing I was praying for her.

 
I walked into her hospital room and there she was. She looked to be tired and in obvious pain. I gave her my gift and said some lame words about hoping she felt better soon. Then she spoke (softly because she had trouble breathing) and told me about a visit from a priest friend. She shared what he said about using the Jesus Prayer to get through the pain and fear she was experiencing. She was so grateful for his words. She sweetly thanked me for coming and let me kiss her cheek as I left.

 
There it was. Opposite Day.

 
I had gone to the hospital thinking I would offer her my love and encouragement, but instead God blessed me through her words. Don’t get me wrong here. I don’t doubt that God hears my prayers when I ask for her healing and I believe that showing my love for her is an act that can comfort and help. But, what I didn’t expect was the blessing I received by trying to be of service to her.

 

 

Although the commandment is “Love one another”, this love isn’t only for the recipient’s sake. It is for the giver, too. As a modern human being, I understood this commandment as a way I could make a difference for someone else. But I soon realized something important. Through loving others, God softens the heart. He makes us able to hear and learn and appreciate the light of Christ shining in all those around us.

Love is a Weakness

loveisaweakness

by Cheryl Anne Tuggle

Submission. It’s the first thing a writer wants to know about when querying an agent or publisher with a manuscript. What are the submission requirements? How do I submit? And while submitting a short story or a few chapters of a novel is a wonderful and desirable thing to be invited to do, the actual process is not as easy as it sounds. In fact, the submission guidelines for lots of literary agencies refer to a work of writing its author wishes to submit as “a piece”. A very fitting term, I say, for what is about to be exacted is no mere manuscript, but a pound of the writer’s rib-flesh, carved deep from the bone with a dull knife.

Pretty twisted stuff. Nevertheless, it goes on in the literary world all the time. Just not nearly so often as many hopeful writers, myself included, would like.

If submitting sounds hard to do, that’s because it is. Not only for fiction writers, but for saner folks as well. There’s a certain humility, a lowliness, a bending of the ego required and usually we need some motive for doing it. The writer wants to be published, of course, will nearly grovel to make that happen. But there are lots of other reasons people allow themselves to submit. Employees submit to company policy because they want to keep a salary coming in, further their careers or earn a raise. In the hospital patients submit to tests and treatment because they want to be cured. Teenagers submit to peer opinion because they need to fit in, to know they belong.

There are those, too, who submit for reasons of the heart. Fans of the movie “The Princess Bride” will recall the scene with Westley and Princess Buttercup in which she gives him several commands in succession, addressing him with the rather humiliating title of “Farm boy”. To each command, Westley replies, “As you wish”.  The rest, of course, is cult classic history. Had Westley not answered the way he did, had he handed Buttercup an extend-a-reach tool instead and told her to fetch down her own pitcher, there would be no happy ending. No perfect kiss.  But Westley does obey when Buttercup commands and so the story proceeds.

The scene of Westley’s compliance is not written into the movie’s screenplay to convey a message of feminine triumph over the weaker male psyche. Not at all. We the viewers immediately understand that there’s something much more important going on between these two characters than dominance and subservience. Westley is being weak on purpose. For the sake of true love.

Love, then, is the best reason one can have for bending to the will of another. And it’s the only motive that comes anywhere close to pure.

It is love, after all, that motivates the Virgin Mary to submit, to take on the role of being Christ’s mother.  Out of adoration for God, pure and simple, she replies to the archangel’s incredible announcement with, “Let it be”.

Love is the reason, too, for Christ’s miracle at Cana. There is evidence of this in the command his mother gives just after Christ has told her that his time for working miracles has not yet come:”His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.”  Not only does Christ demonstrate filial love by turning the water to wine, Mary seems to know before he does it what his action will be, no doubt because for all his earthly life she’s been loving him.

The highest expression of this submission that is love is seen in the relationship between the three persons of the Holy Trinity, most beautifully illustrated in Rublev’s icon. With skill belonging to the other world, Rublev uses color, light and composition to evoke the perfect harmony that exists between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Taken from the Old Testament story of the hospitality of Abraham, the three angels are shown, each with head inclined to another, seated in an intimate circle around a table on which sits a single vessel.

holy_trinity_-rublev (2)

For me, the great gift of this icon is in its movement. Gazing at it, I have a sense of perfect, selfless love being infinitely exchanged. I can almost see it happening before my eyes. Each bends to the other and gives the eternal answer, “As You wish.”

The Lingering Scent of Kindness

chicken farm sign (2)

by Cheryl Anne Tuggle

When I was small my mother had what she called an “egg route”. With baskets of fresh hen eggs—washed and stacked into cardboard flats or single-dozen cartons—filling the back  of our station wagon, she drove over roads that twisted like pretzels from our farm in the small borough of Prospect, Pennsylvania to the larger nearby town of New Castle to deliver her wares. Many of Mom’s customers were homemakers, wives of men who left in the dark each day to work in the steel or coal industry. These were strong, capable women in middle-age who did not seem to know they weren’t supposed to love their jobs. With their wide, apron-wrapped waists and wider smiles they seemed to me as inseparable a part of their kitchens as did their flour-dusted tables and busy steaming stoves.

I always liked riding along with Mom on a delivery day, but never more than at Christmas or Easter time, when these women would be slow roasting meats and baking sweetbreads stuffed with dried fruits and scented with anise and icing dozens of cookies.

“You must come in. Come in,” they’d command, in heavily accented English, when we knocked at their back doors. And Mom always obeyed, to my great delight. Not only did those egg buyers’ houses smell like I imagined heaven would, but I knew from experience that for the next fifteen minutes to a half hour, while she visited over a cup of strong coffee, my brother and I would gorge ourselves on sweets. (We were the youngest in a family of five at the  time—all boys, except for me.  A platter of anything never lasted long on our table.)

lingering scent of kindness

The extra minutes we spent visiting with  Mom’s customers could be seen as wasted, especially since they extended our delivery day considerably.

But they were not wasted.

Throughout my life I’ve kept the memory of those women and the gift of their warmth, recalling the effect their neighborliness had not only on my brother and me but on my mother. Young as we were, we could tell that Mom enjoyed our visits in those homes as much as we did. Although she wasn’t the type to complain, I think her customers knew she had troubles. In their kind kitchens the pain and fatigue that came with her rheumatoid arthritis seemed to lift for a time. Refreshed by their friendship, her brow would smooth, her spirits would lighten, and she’d break into song or entertain us with a story from her childhood as we drove up and down the hilly streets of New Castle, finishing the day’s deliveries.

There have been other moments like those over the years, instances in which other human beings, other children of God, showed a bit of generosity or did me or my loved ones a kindness. And it strikes me that a few of those gestures—an encouraging grin, a sympathetic glance on a difficult day—could be considered so ordinary, so commonplace, so slight, as to be downright insignificant.

They have in truth all been earthquakes, changing the landscape of my life.

It’s an amazing thing, and awfully humbling, to consider how huge a small offering—just a plate of cookies and a bid to sit a while—can be.