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The quiet gift of new life

In the witness of the meek

Her name was Bertha. She was 92. I was 16. Bertha lived in a residential care facility that specialized in caring for the indigent elderly. I met Bertha as part of the volunteer work I was performing in preparation for the sacrament of confirmation. Like so many of her fellow residents, Bertha had few family members living nearby, and seldom got visits from anyone other than staff and volunteers.

Each week, I would make a point to spend a little extra time visiting with Bertha, who had a wealth of stories to share and the heart of a servant. Bertha spent much of her free time knitting afghans for other residents, friends, and even for the facility’s little gift shop. Intrigued by the large number of afghans Bertha had knitted, I asked her how many skeins of yarn were needed to knit the average afghan. From that, I calculated that during her time there, Bertha’s beautiful hand-made afghans had consumed well over 10 miles of yarn! Quite a feat – even more so, considering that Bertha’s hands were severely deformed by arthritis. The same arthritis also kept her confined to an electric wheelchair as her primary means of mobility when she was not in bed.

I learned a great deal from Bertha during the two years I visited with her. She taught me about love and respect for those on the margins of society. I learned about being efficient in my daily work – since, as Bertha often reminded me, “If you can’t take many steps, you’d better make the ones you can take count for the most.”

There are others in my life who have followed in Bertha’s footsteps. They have names like Ruth, Richard, Mamie, Clara, Bea, John, Maurice, Tillie, Mary, Betty, Virginia and Irene. Their names may not mean much to others, but they mean a great deal to me, since each has taught me more than I can put into words. They never lived in fancy homes, rubbed elbows with the high and mighty or exercised influence in lofty circles of world power. They were and are the meek of the world. Yet their God-given gifts and personal example are mighty indeed.

In a society that seems ever more consumed by the bold, garish and downright odd, it seems to me that we can learn a great deal from the Berthas of the world, if we are mindful of their presence and willingness to quietly share their gifts. The challenge is finding these outstanding individuals, because they rarely feel comfortable with the spotlight pointed at them. When asked, they are usually quite self-effacing, just doing with what God gives them to do. That’s what makes them all the more remarkable.

Pattie Scherer, Keith Mixer, and Mother Teresa all fit into this category. Extraordinary people, each of them, they would also be the first to tell us they are just ordinary people, invited by God to be part of something extraordinary. As we prepare to celebrate the mystery of our Lord’s resurrection, we also celebrate the quiet gift of new life that God shares with us in the steadfast and faith-filled witness of the meek. And so our journey in FAITH continues.