On the day before the New Year started, I sang at a funeral. As sunlight streamed through stained glass, the small choir sang sweetly, and the priest spoke of faith even when comfort seems beyond us, good words but sometimes as hard to hold onto as the sunlight in our hands.
I had just returned to my office, and as I opened my car door, I saw a lady walking down the street stop in the road as her thin, plastic shopping bag tore, and her purchases fell to the wet street. I grabbed an empty bag from my car and went to her, joining a younger woman who had arrived a moment before. We gathered up her belongings from the wintery muck and wrangled them into the whole bag. The lady stood weeping, the tears freezing on her cheeks; the torn bag seemed to be a symbol of her day.
“I am never like this. I have walked for 10 years; I never take a ride,” she said, looking at the young woman beside her and then the car and the young man at the wheel, waiting at the corner of the street. “But my sister killed herself last night,” she continued, “and I shouldn’t even be out like this at all. Nobody should even see me.” The freezing wind, the bitter cold, the torn bag — these were reflections of her life at that moment.
I handed a tissue from the pack in my coat pocket and placed the rest of the package in hers as she wiped her eyes, apologizing and thanking us. “There,” we said, each of us holding her in half hugs, two strangers on the snowy street on the final day of the year. “I never take a ride,” she said, independently but with weariness in her voice. “Sometimes you need one,” I said, as the young woman nodded, her eyes calm and kind, and said, “It will be OK.” The lady was silent for a moment and then let herself be lead to the car by the young woman who held her arm closely.
The young man came and took the bag to the car where he waited to open the door for the young woman and her grieving companion. I could do no more, and so I met the young woman’s eyes a final time, and we nodded to each other and smiled sympathetically.
I watched their slow progress across the slush and then they stopped and the young woman held the lady in a long, patient hug when she could not, for sorrow, walk more. I knew she was in the good hands of anonymous people who would care for a stranger in need and see her safely home.
In this world, where we are beset by stories of sadness and sorrow, we are seldom reminded that in the midst of all things there is more kindness than we will ever be able to witness.
Yes, in the throes of deepest despair, when the sense of loneliness is colder even than the winter winds, mankind offers itself in these deeds of brotherhood and service in ways that are small and gentle — and deeply rooted in strength. Each act is like a blade of wild grass growing — alone they seem insignificant — but trust, ever and always, that those acts together create fields so vast our eyes cannot see their horizon.
And so it is that on that bitterly cold and windy day that I could see all around me fields and fields of green and gold wherever I looked at the cusp of the old year and the new.
May we each hold that faith when comfort seems beyond us that there are even strangers who would give it willingly. May we each see and recognize, in this new year and all others, the green and golden fields and fields that surround us in sunlight and in snow.
Monique Bouchard lives in Old Town with her husband and young son. She works in Bangor.