Often I sit in the back pew. I like it there. Between me and the altar are the people I know and love. From this vantage point, I remember to pray for all those I know who bear burdens, are hurting, are wounded. As I look out and see all the people who have been kind to me, helped me, and loved me, I more often remember to be grateful.
There is a space, in the row in front of me, that looks very empty right now. Elaine’s spot is empty since she recently passed away. My friends, Dave and Ann, had brought Dave’s mom, Elaine, to our church regularly since she moved to an assisted living facility in our area. I would watch them get her out of the car, into her wheelchair. I wondered how much earlier they had to leave home to get her and bring her to church. Carefully, they would wheel her into “their pew”, with Elaine at the end of the row in her wheelchair. For the most part she sat there, but when we all rose at the Eucharistic prayer, Elaine, grasping the pew in front of her, pulled herself up and stood reverently.
When she did, her son, imperceptibly, but carefully, ever so slightly, rearranged her chair so when she sat down it would be positioned perfectly. I had come to look for this sweet dance; Elaine’s life force still there, Dave’s slight glance checking on her, and the tiny movement, re-positioning of her chair. As I watched Dave, I thought about this small gesture of care and love for his elderly mom. In fact, I looked for it every week, so touching I found it. She didn’t know he was doing this for her, anymore than I imagine Dave knew the thousand, maybe million, little gestures of care and love his mom had done for him, even before he was old enough to be aware of them. His mom did this long before he had any clue to say thank you. Somehow, the love story told on the altar, was made more real in the little story that unfolded as I watched it from the back pew.
And I wonder is this how we learn to love, by being part of the circle of many indiscernible unremarkable caring gestures shown to us and then passed on?