Monday, February 2, 2009

Grace notes: Time, not money

I take a good many cues from my oldest friends and my Husband's family. They know an awful lot about what truly matters.

Here in metro New York, there is an increasing lack of generosity of one's own time and talents. This is not exclusive to Westchester as I have recently heard similar concerns from a blog friend in the mid-West, which surprised me because this story I have to tell occurs just outside Wichita, Kansas. That is where my husband grew up and a finer, deeper, more loving group of people, I defy you to find.

Josh's Dad passed away suddenly four years ago. He was so young, in his forties, with four children still in his and my Mother-in-Law's care. It was the worst thing that ever happened. In the three years that followed, my own family suffered immeasurably but losing Don in his youth, loving his family and enjoying each moment with them as he did, and the fact that his years with them were far too new and few, that was the worst of all the tragedies that followed. But he was a deeply good man and a person who in the course of his position, at one time or another came in contact with most of Wichita. They were involved in the church and school district. I mean, the man was as widely loved and respected as one can hope to be. And in the days after his death, his community did not fail to do whatever they could to be true to that spirit.

I flew from New York with my parents and on the second leg my Father suffered a collapsed lung and ended up in the same emergency room which Father-in-Law died the night before. Dad was admitted to ICU there, 2,000 miles from home, wanting only to pay his respects to Don.

After the reinflation of his lung, many people who had never met my family came: Josh's Mom, Don's brothers and sisters; Can you imagine? I mean they had just lost a husband and a brother; still they got themselves up, gathered their own grief and went to see my Dad when he was sick.

Where we come from, people are pretty focused on themselves and paying their staggering mortgages to keep up with the Jones. Sadly, I could not see that having happened in our own community if we were home. Then Don's colleagues from work came too. Strangers in a hospital room, all of a sudden friends, giving through their grief and agony. We were all moved to tears. When Dad could not fly home, Don's family and friends offered to make the Amtrak arrangements, then tried to pay for them. All of this while grieving a man they loved; a hero to them and that fine city. I could not fathom how wide and strong goodness could truly be until that time in our lives.

On the day of the service, my Dad checked himself out of the hospital against advice and would not be deterred from attending. So we New Yorkers were all there to see the generosity of Don's spirit returned; it brought thousands to the church and graveside, to witness a procession which brought Wichita traffic to a halt as some 500 cars were estimated to have moved along the route that day, and to share a meal together afterwards.

That day, the ladies of Don's Mother’s church served literally hundreds of people dishes made in their own kitchens, with their own hands, and never once, in seeing the sheer numbers of people who came out, did they flinch: There would be enough because everyone had contributed. But what impressed me most was that they had done all the work themselves, given once again of their own time and talents, and not called the local caterer (as we do here).

When my own Dad died in Newport also unexpectedly the week of my Brother's wedding, the gifts of time were the ones we truly cherished: Elizabeth who stayed in the hospital with Dad while we went to Chris's wedding. The people who came to see him there. My oldest friend, Dori, who drove from New York to stay with six week old daughter so I could be at the hospital. Becca, who left her vacation on the Cape to see Dad one last time. Lois who flew from Oregon to be there for whatever needed to be done. Dori's Mom, Danielle, and Andrea who sent food to the house that we ate for a week afterwards. And my Mother-in-Law again and always; who got on a plane in Kansas that day and spent a week looking after all of us.

I learned in those dark days in Wichita that the most important thing one can give is their time, not their money. Here, people will always whip out a credit card rather than take the time to make food, visit you in the hospital, watch your kids for a couple of hours - my three best friends notwithstanding. Anything not to have to do it themselves. They are, "too busy," and "have too much going on right now."

The Hostess knows better and has seen better from people who were legitimately and traumatically preoccupied. I learned the most important thing I will ever know from that trip and from the actions of my own best friends as my own Dad lay dying: I don't care who you are, what you do, or what you are going through: There is always time to give of yourself.


Mrs. Blandings said...

I certainly could not have said it better myself.

columnist said...

A salutory reminder, well expressed.