By Robert Bradley
The holiday season can be daunting. For some, there is a false impression that happiness is required, for another, it might be the prevailing weight of the loss of a loved one, the debilitating crush of depression.
I recall a restaurateur in Portland, Oregon calling me during the height of the U.S. recession. I was working for Meals on Wheels.
He said, “ Never have I struggled so hard. My business is down nearly 40%. The only way…the only way I can endure this hardship is to focus on the suffering of others. In order to do so, I will cook lunch for your clients one day a week.”
It has been nearly twenty years. He feeds 130 people every Tuesday.
The lesson is a simple one: Through purpose, you can find your way through hardship and grief.
I’ve been casting about to see where I can best be of service and had the good fortune to be invited into a rest home for elderly and compromised folks the other day. The facade of the place is not imposing at all, a place one would hardly notice, but the treasures inside were astonishing.
The courtyard was abounding in vitality with fruit trees, a neatly laid out vegetable garden and flowers everywhere, creating a place both joyful and vigorous. I was captivated.
The scent of roses came first, the introduction of honeysuckle, dusty parrots, musty garden soil, soup stock broadcasting garlic and carrots, chicken bones and thyme leaves, damp shawls and sweaters of alpaca, the sweet scent of fresh sheets hanging on the line, and the complex fragrance of age followed in slow succession.
I was early. Mass was just ending. The murmur of call and response prayer, unchanged since the first prayers in the first church in Cuenca, hummed in a mesmerizing vibration aglow with ardor and purpose. These old bodies, bowed as they have done their entire lives, were chanting a mantra the rhythm of which is far beyond my comprehension, but not my appreciation. I felt privileged to be among them.
When Mass was over, the residents each went about their routine. A couple of women rewound a conversation about a cat, knitting needles were pulled from large cloth bags and put right to work, somewhere, someone put on a record of scratchy guitars and a wheezing accordion while others shuffled in moccasin-clad feet to their rooms or took to dozing in the parlor before dinner.
It is 1947.
A couple is riding horseback up to Turi (remember how much fun!), others might be attending dances, working the land, or renewing that first blush of love. A few, with eyes closed and when the warmth of the sun is just so, visit with dear friends from long ago, who meet only here, sitting quietly in the soft afternoon glow of dreams.
We all have much to learn about love and loss. Fortunately, the road has been marked beforehand by generations of friends and family who scouted long before our arrival. The way forward is clear, the task well defined.
Our path is smoothed through service to others, pausing long enough to smell the roses, and by sitting quietly in the soft afternoon glow of dreams.