saints among us
growing up as i did, putting head to my pillow night after night, plotting the ways i too might stretch a fist toward the heavens, palm a star, take it home in my pocket, i’ve been a student, for a very long time, of this saint thing.
over the years, and there’s now been nearly half a whole century (i’m excluding the year before 1 in my counting, thinking i’d not yet started my saint watch, certainly not before i escaped from my old maple crib), i have scanned not only the heavens but also the earth.
i have looked in the unlikeliest spots. picked through crowds motley and noisy. spotted the sole possessor of what could only be called saintly demeanor.
the one soul in the room who walked with the grace of an angel, who did immeasurable good with nary a flurry. just wafted through life, sprinkling a dust that might be called golden. only really it’s the dust of a kindness that’s quiet, that’s real and that changes the course of the day and the week and year after year.
or perhaps it’s the radical loudmouth. the one who will not be still, not till justice is done. hallelujah, i say, to the one not afraid to ruffle the feathers.
either, or. in between. there are those who inspire, who stir, who dig deep inside, and rise up triumphant.
i am a student of all.
yes, it’s true, and i’m saying it now, i have, all my life, looked for and collected stories of saints the way some might collect maybe a shell on the beach. or a small metal race car.
only the saints that i’ve sought, the ones who i’ve watched and i’ve studied, are not off in some dusty old tomes. no. they’re right here among us.
in my brand of religion, in my excursion through living, i am drawn to the study of decency down in the ditches.
i am not so caught up in the tales of the medieval saints (though i do find the story, say of christina the astonishing, she who pinned herself to a windmill, to escape the stench of human sin, well, rather astonishing).
nor do i get too bogged down–not at all really, vehemently not–in the twists and the tangles of tape that declare, in white puffy smoke, so-and-so is a saint.
blkkh. a saint is a saint is a saint. i know one when i see one. and i don’t need a committee to tell me.
i know, when in the presence of someone who’s saintly, that some sort of peace settles the waves of the room. or sets the waters to rocking.
either way, soft or loud, hushed or blasted through megaphone, it is as if some fine inner core is tapped, is let loose, and everyone breathing the air–everyone with a nose for these things–suddenly is filled with a rarefied mix of poison-free breath.
there is, in the saintly, an eye on the prize that is wisely removed of personal gain. it is as if she or he is operating purely for good. no strings attached.
take, for instance, one of the saintly i’ve gathered in just the last week: the soccer coach who started out substitute teaching in one of the toughest schools in chicago, realized the kids had no gym class, started early morning soccer. then realized kids, first to fourth graders, were coming to school with no breakfast. so he started to feed them. he’s not even 30, and he says he feels like he has a family of 50. the kids call him at all hours of the day and the night. and he always answers.
or maybe it’s merely the friend who came and who got me, took me away. took me out to the country. took me away from the things that had been filling my head, weighing down my heart.
or the lady i know, who week after week, brings dinner to this friend or that. to friends who are old, who never get out. and she’s able, so she cooks and she drives and she fills their saturday nights. with small talk and deep talk. whatever they want. she tidies their kitchens, and then she drives home.
you might say, well your bar is not high. certainly any one of those souls had a good day, followed by a bad day. yes indeed that’s the point, now that we’re moving along here. i don’t know anyone flawless. don’t expect it.
but i do know that each of us has what it takes, to reach down inside, to pull out a turnip of goodness. of bigger than bigness. we each, all of us, possess sparks of divine.
the point then is to kindle the light. touch one flame to another. to get this ball burning. before it gets dark.
if we each spend one minute, one spark of the day, living beyond our small little selves, well then fairly soon we’ve gone and we’ve ignited a bonfire. a fire that will not be stopped.
so in the end we seek not to become enrobed in all white, wafting perfumes of the heavens. heck, no. we aim to become big in small little moments.
we put down the long list of things we must do, and instead we call on a friend. a friend who is hurting. we don’t call, we just come. we sit where their sorrow is spilling. in a hospital waiting room. or there on the stoop of their house.
we lift their load. we make them a big pot of soup. we make their beds. we take off with their children, just to give them the peace of an hour.
or maybe we’re saintly with even a stranger. maybe we look in the eyes of the man who is begging for dollars. maybe for a minute we imagine what it is to be cold and alone, to have been a young child, of 7, who woke to a place where no one was home. who walked down a stairwell that reeked of bad smells. and getting to school was a matter of life and possible death. who knew any minute furor could strike.
or maybe the stranger is there in some fancy shop. but you find out from listening that really her life was as sad and as empty as the guy up above. how she grew up in a house so huge she could be lost for hours on end. and no one, not the mother who drank, or the father who worked till late in the night, ever came looking, to feed her or hug her. how she doesn’t remember one single hug from her mother. and her mother just died.
today is the day called all saints. every year, growing up, we stopped and we honored the saints.
i honor them now. but not usually the dead ones. i study, i watch and i learn from the very alive ones. i take mental notes. i scribble on paper.
there are saints all around. and if you collect them, your world will be shiny. and so will your heart.
it’s a soft gentle glow that you seek. or maybe a bold one that blinds you. either way, you’ll know when you find it.
and who knows, there might be a scent in the air. it might be that of the heavens.
might as well reach for the stars, pluck one and carry it home.
imagine the scrap book of saints. those are pages i do want to keep. want to turn. want to soak into my heart.
here at the chair i often go out on a limb. take today, for instance. might as well launch a campaign. a saintly one. canonization begins here. feel free to scribble your thoughts on the saintly among us. nominations are welcome. or just keen observations on those all around you who make you more than you were before they criss-crossed your path. may your all saints day be blessed.
and bless those of you, who in very big ways, teach me, day after day, what it is to be saintly on earth.