This past week, the mother of a high school classmate died. Mrs. Ladner’s obituary said:
She “got the greatest joy from opening her home to friends and family, whether it be a full house for a holiday dinner or just a cup of tea, or a baked treat and a talk with a close friend. The door was always open, there was always an extra seat at the table, and she always made you feel welcomed and loved.”
She was a kind lady and although I did not stop in to share a cup of tea with her before she died, I remembered a lifetime of the kindness she had poured out for me and my friends and neighbors in our small town. Having walked by her house regularly for most of my life, I knew it was true; the door was always open.
She was a member of the local Methodist church, which just happened to be down the street from her house. I always saw her at Christmas fairs and church suppers and she would give me a hug and call me “Sunshine.” She must have seen something in me that I did not see in myself and her simple belief in my ability to “shine” was a subtle inspiration to me over the years.
Her life was far from perfect. Her youngest son, my classmate, died suddenly right before our twentieth high school reunion. We were all devastated by his death but who can know a greater grief than a mother who loses her son or daughter? Yet she carried on in her life of service to others, always there for us with a hug and a smile and a cup of tea for a friend.
I have thought about her life and death this weekend as I’ve been zipping around my fragmented existence, speeding up and down the highways at seventy-five miles an hour. I’ve thought about how impossible it is to build that thing called “community” when it’s just an abstract notion or a place a hundred miles up the road. How much can I really “love” my neighbor when my act of love is to “like” their Facebook status while I’m speeding off to somewhere else? I’m reminded of another friend who once told me “the only way to get to know someone is to get to know them.” That might take years and years and many cups of tea and a woman might actually need to stay home once in a while to open her door and pour out that kindness.
Every day in some small town another Mrs. Ladner dies. I am personally grieved and I wonder who will step up to fill her shoes. Some of my peers might consider it backward and retrograde when I say that I would trade some of my professional “success” for an opportunity to sit down and have a cup of tea with Mrs. Ladner. That would mean, of course, that I’d have to slow my pace down to a walk.
Rest in peace, Mrs. Ladner, and thank you for helping me to shine a little bit brighter.