All my life I skipped the small things that I thought wouldn’t make any difference. Guess what: They made a difference. The phone calls I didn’t get to, the birthday cards I didn’t send, the promptings to leave the dishes and grab the kids for an outing. What forfeit is mine.
Against the inner screaming banshee chorus of “It’s too late now,” I have started, slowly but consciously, doing small things. In this I am inspired by my grandfather’s memory: Dad tells me that in 1955, as they stood amid the wreckage of the family business wiped out by a flood, he looked at his father and said, “What do we do, Pa?” His father said, “Pick up a shovel.”
At church on Sunday I happened to remember that Eowyn is getting married next week. Eowyn was born, went to Sunday school, youth group, and the college and careers group in our church, without me ever engaging her in a single conversation, though her mother is a friend. That’s awkward. I went up to her after the service and said, “Eowyn, I realize I have no relationship with you, but I would like to pray for your marriage.” I put my hand on her arm, and we both lowered our heads while I prayed a blessing. Eowyn said it meant a lot to her, and we went our separate ways. I will probably not see her again.
It so happens that after that same worship service, Norma came up and asked if I wanted to go for lunch with her ladies’ group, an invitation she regularly makes and I regularly decline. This time I figured: What the heck, I am practically at the end of my life anyway. And I went, and had a good time. I even got to know some of my sisters’ struggles, and we prayed about them before parting.
I thought of skipping the seminary graduation this year, though I live practically down the street and always know at least one person who’s graduating. I skip it just about every year. “What difference does its make?” I always think. I come up with reasons why it doesn’t matter: They won’t notice I didn’t come; graduations are just formalities; graduations are not the important thing in life. But this time I decided to go. I don’t expect it to change my life suddenly and make me Jesus’ proverbial tree that the birds of the air come to nest in. But it’s something. And something is always better than nothing.
My children and I have “issues” reaching back decades, so the temptation is to mentally rehearse the whole sorry history in preparation for holiday gatherings and to take my assigned penitent place. This year I said, “My Mother’s Day wish is to play baseball.” So I located a field with a baseball diamond, and my elder son scrounged up a bat, balls, and gloves. And we played baseball in God’s fresh air under clouds like sailing ships. It doesn’t change the past, but it puts something new into it, for the future, in the positive column instead of the negative column.
My 40th college reunion is this year. I always pitch the invitation in the trash, every milestone year that comes up. This year I circled the phone number of the reunion class liaison and phoned her. I wanted to know if Mary Jo Ball is on the list of respondents who plan to attend. I need to drive to Worcester, Mass., to ask her forgiveness. We won’t ever be best friends again, but that’s okay. This is better done than not.
Jesus told a story of man who went along merrily messing up his life until one day it all caught up to him. This did him good because he suddenly had a moment of salubrious sobriety that put him in his right mind and energized him to action. Knowing his goose was cooked anyway, he made the best of a bad situation and went around doing the little he could to improve his situation under the circumstances. Jesus commended him as wise (Luke 16:1-8).
Last week while walking through the cemetery I took a picture of a sycamore tree I like and texted it to my daughter in Brooklyn. It isn’t something I am wont to do.