Sunday was the answer. I did not then know the question.
Nikki Giovanni, “These Women”
(A blog post by Andrew Taylor-Troutman for The Presbyterian Leader.)
On an unseasonably warm fall afternoon, a certain campus minister received a phone call from my parents. They were worried about me, their oldest boy turned prodigal son.
Today, I sit in a church office here in southwestern Virginia and, sometimes, I receive phone calls from parents who are scared and anxious about their children. And what that campus minister meant to me on that day long ago has served as a model.
I remember his attentiveness, how his stride fell into rhythm with mine as we walked together. I remember his kindness, his calm voice. Though there were no easy answers on that day, he sparked a little hope in me that one day there might be forgiveness. Maybe even that forgiveness was already there with us, as we walked under the bright fall colors, side-by-side, step-by-step. From the benefit of ten years distance, I can see that he made all the difference for me.
Giovanni’s poem, “These Women,” is also about mentors and those who have served as role models. The line I’ve quoted above suggests that, when it comes to faith, the significance of actions deepens over time . . . if we are willing to think and pray, re-think and pray again. In terms of leadership, cultivating this habit of awareness and reflection is vitally important perhaps to any organization, certainly to the life of the church.
Every other Wednesday, at a quarter after eleven o’clock, two women visit a senior living community in our town. I have been present several times when they burst into the cafeteria. One is tall and skinny with smooth, hazel-colored skin and light eyes. She prances about daintily with her head held high, purse dangling from the crook of her right arm, and shiny heels clicking crisply across the worn floor. The other is short and squat with a dark, round face. She always wears pretty flower skirts down to her ankles that swish when she moves. But her most recognizable trait is her melodious voice, which booms out ahead of her:
“Why hello friends, a most blessed day to each one of you,” her greeting rings from one side of the cafeteria to the other, “Lawd, have mercy! It is so good to see you!”
They always begin at the first table and work their way counterclockwise around the room to each resident. The verbose one goes first and pronounces rapid fire greetings and salutations:
“Honey child, you lookin’ good, girl!”
“Well, well, mister so-and-so has a smile for us today!”
“Sister, sister, I could have never missed ya! How you doin’?”
“Brother, brother, just how are ya? It’s a fine day to be alive!”
Her partner follows behind, offering nothing more than a shy smile and a gentle squeeze of the shoulder. They never hurry, yet never pause more than a few moments, all that is necessary to meet and greet. The staff counts, not only on the exact day and time of arrival, but also on the punctuality of their exit. They leave between 11:40 and 11:45, just in time to begin moving residents to their rooms and clearing off the tables. They are as dependable as the big and small hands of a clock.
I once asked these two ladies why they did what they did. The tall, quiet one locked eyes with me, “Son, questions that begin with ‘why’ never give simple answers. But I tell you this,” and she gestured to her friend before continuing, “One day, we might find ourselves here. So we believe that a visit is truly priceless.”
I’ve been thinking about that ever since.