They still walk among us, you know. The saints of God. Most of the time we don’t recognize them. We see them as just normal people moving in and out of our lives, but their sainthood is there, a phantom figure moving in the periphery, quietly changing the world for the better.
I was privileged to know two who have recently left us. One was a long-time member of our church who never stopped giving back to those around him. He cared for his mother who lived to be 104 and when his wife became ill, spent the remaining days of his own life caring for her. He led her to that communion rail every Sunday, helped her take the bread and the wine, even when she no longer knew she was at church. He was a part of nearly every outreach ministry and every organization in the church and local community. If he saw a need, he was there, no questions asked, no fanfare. He fed people with Meals on Wheels, drove them to appointments, and offered a ray of hope at the other end of a telephone hotline when they had nowhere else to turn. He saved lives because of the fierceness with which he lived his faith.
He could be an ornery character at times, opinionated and stubborn and several years ago, when my husband and I asked him for a capital campaign gift, we found out in a hurry what he thought of the cost of proposed renovations to the parish!
Yesterday, we celebrated his entrance into heaven with a joyful service of resurrection, the sanctuary filled with people whose lives he touched.
I doubt that the other saint ever darkened the door of a church. But I firmly believe he was doing God’s work in his own way. Another tough cookie, a gruff exterior with the proverbial heart of gold, this man was a local veterinarian who cared for two generations of our family’s pets. His bedside manner was better with animals than people. I remember one of my mother’s friends was highly offended when Doc looked at her during an exam and said, “This dog is too damn fat. What the hell are you feeding her?
Years ago, Doc came into the office on New Year’s Day when one of my dogs fell off a bed and injured her leg. He would call you with lab results on Sunday afternoon or at 10 o’clock at night because he was always in the office. His home was next to his practice, (like in the old days of small-town family doctors) and you knew that when you had an animal in the hospital, Doc was there. His daughter, who now runs the practice, said he often slept in the hospital if there was an animal in critical condition. He never pulled any punches when he looked up at you over those half-glasses, but no one was kinder or gentler when it was time to say good-by to a beloved pet.
Doc and my dad were great friends, sharing a love of trains and history and good wine. He was the last person outside the family to see my father alive. I heard a knock at the back door and there was Doc with his scruffy beard, in his retirement uniform of wool plaid shirt and worn jeans, bringing my dad a bottle of wine made from grapes he grew himself. I took Doc back to the room to see my dad, he said good-by to his friend, and then gave me an uncharacteristic hug. Later, after the funeral director left, I gratefully sipped a glass of that wine.
There will be no glorious church service for Doc. Just a simple gathering of friends and clients at the veterinary office on a Sunday afternoon. But no less sacred.
In a world filled with people shouting about their accomplishments and abilities, we need to find our saints and treasure them and hold them close while they’re still walking among us, and maybe even attempt to emulate them.
Some days, I literally feel assaulted with brashness. Everyone clamoring about what they can do or what they have to sell or the best way to cook mashed potatoes. Quietness and humility do not trend on social media. I enjoy Facebook as much as anyone, but there’s a fine line between sharing joys and accomplishments and announcing to the world how wonderful you are. I find it utterly appalling that the current leader of our country believes it’s necessary to do this.
The pluggers are the ones who make a difference. They are our saints. Like Doc and the gentleman from our church, they just go about their business, putting others’ lives and needs before their own and vehemently rejecting any kind of adulation for their efforts. They are possessed of a drive to serve, a fire in the belly to do whatever it takes to help another human being. Or animal. To do the right thing regardless of personal cost.
We sang this hymn as the recessional at the funeral yesterday. A fitting tribute to two saints among us.
“Come, labor on, No time for rest, till glows the western sky,
Till the long shadows o’er our pathway lie,
And a glad sound comes with the setting sun,
Servants, well done.”
–The Hymnal, 1982