I've spent a lot of my life trying to quietly grease the squeaking cogs and wheels of the relational machine.
It starts with the people you know that need a small service; I began by helping a mother feed her three children. It was a busy time before our evening bible study and the church building was buzzing with people on various activities. I had eaten lunch earlier in the same kitchen where I helped heat up mac & cheese in the microwave, grabbing a few spoons and running up to feed the kids in the all-purpose church-of-christ room that always smelled of stale coffee. It is simple enough to feed a child so that someone else might feed two, and the mother thanked me.
Then it went on to little things; I babysat for free, I worked in the church nursery (I can change diapers), I washed dishes at youth functions, I made chamomile tea for my adolescent sister when I knew she was upset. It wasn't as if I was opened to the world wholly as a human being and knew how to do the things that would express my love for those around me--I started small with the things I understood. I muddled much more than I helped, I'm sure, but I hope some of it showed through. I was starting to grow up of my own accord--and that, as I hope some of you will attest to, is not an easy thing.
I began to realise that my small actions and contributions to my limited sphere actually had to do with a deep-seated longing for the healing of other people. That sounds so poetic and so noble, but really; to my chubby, pony-tailed adolescent sensitivity, to see other people in pain of loss or grief or exhaustion hurt me more than the mocking and bullying at school, the burning embarrassments of whatever mistakes I made socially. Not only did I feel their hurt more keenly but I could also do something about their hurt when my own was something I knew not how to conquer.
So I bumbled and fumbled and did my best to be worthy. Even my hobbies began to revolve around healing people; I found happiness in having a garden. It was an herb garden--and as those who know me can imagine, it was based on medieval designs and medicinal purposes. I grew mints, thymes, oregano, chamomile, rosemary, lavender, lemon balm, lemon verbena, roses, honeysuckle, sage . . . the smells of warm herbs mixed with the smells of bread baking in the house and of the copse of pine beyond our fence is a memory that sustains me.
During that time we also had boarders at our house, sometimes up to 5 at a time, and 7 to 10 on holidays. Aside from having two sisters and two loving parents, doubling that number kept the household a busy place, full of adventure. Our boarders were constantly in and out on business, and some of them did not stay very long. One of the longest staying mistook my anxious care for a deadly emotional obsession that consequently embarrassed me highly, and another paid me the highest compliment of declaring that he should have been quite in love with me had we been the same age. I kept insomnia and sinus infections and headaches at bay with teas and inhalations, and everyday scratches as bruises were treated as much with my poultices as with antibacterial creams. I felt useful.
We moved, later, and I began to take other responsibilities. I did small things, like washing the dishes and folding loads of towels; I put up groceries and fetched things from shops and aisles when my mother went shopping (mostly for groceries). I earned good grades in my classes at my community college. I began to learn to cook. I learned how to drive, and then I could take my sister to her classes, go to the grocery store on my own, get our bottled water from the units down the hill, return rented movies and library books, and perform small tasks of trust and usefulness. I served food at our church soup kitchen, I cried and I prayed, I volunteered to speak about my experiences, I talked politely to a good many people I would much rather have avoided, and I supported my family and continued our familial quest of hospitality to strangers and those in need.
So much happens in my life, my misadventurous life, that I am sometimes boggled by my own actions and reactions. I do believe that I wanted the best for the people in my life, but I am sure that I let go so many opportunities to help other people that sometimes I look back and wish that I could have only known more. I am sure I was much too ignorant. I hope those who know me will forgive me for the things I have done or have not done . . .
I began to learn that much of love is endurance, patience, and constant, careful attention. Details like cups of tea or leftovers from dinner or clean sheets or remembering the names of grandchildren and pets--these are important to people. Sometimes I was upset over people I could not help, or the injustices of the world . . . people told me I cared "too much". They still tell me that, sometimes. Others that I care "deeply". I appreciate that, but I'm still not sure what they mean. And the words "I love you"! I am so exasperated with the English language; these three words have put me into so much trouble I can hardly recount the incidents individually.
Now that I have been considered "grown up" by my recent acquaintances and most of my older friends, I wonder if I have not erred and love improperly. One must find outlets for love somehow, or it becomes too much to bear and is overwhelming . . . is this what it means in the song when it says that "love will set your heart free"?