“By love serve one another.” Galatians 5:13
It’s been 22 years since it happened and to be honest I really have very little recollection of it, yet every single time since that moment, that one act, I am reminded by the recipient.
“You cleaned my house for me.”
I woke up to the TV news playing, it was that early in the morning news and while it was the beginning of a hot August day, I was still groggy when I heard what I thought was a dream. A loved one had died, I was still in the in between when the news registered in my groggy brain. I clarified. What? How? He was perfectly healthy a week ago wasn’t he? My Mama said she didn’t know details but did suggest we head over to the deceased man’s home. His wife was there, mama had just gotten off the phone with her and while she’d said she didn’t need anything, my Mama knew better.
We arrived and the house was still and quiet. The grass was overgrown, her husband was going to cut it the following weekend, he would’ve done it the previous one but he had chosen to do something else instead. His choice had made for a memory, Good choice! I thought at the time. The house was an old house, the century-old kind with a big broad front porch and two porch swings. The screen door seemed as tall and as wide as the downtown buildings you could see from it. They had no central air conditioning as the house was literally over a hundred years old and hadn’t been retrofitted. All the windows were open and cross-ventilation was the method of cooling, although on a sweltering humid Alabama August day, cross-ventilation is hardly recognizable. A single fan stirred the air and the house was slightly in disarray.
They, like many people, lived in their house, so clothes were strewn about, dishes from the night before piled high, papers and such laying about. It wasn’t a dirty house but given the fact that it would soon be filled with people it could use some attention. My sister and I got right to work. We straightened and cleaned, wiped the visible dust away, swept and cleaned the original hardwood floors that were worn smooth and dipped where hundreds of thousands of feet had trod. We cleaned toilets and changed out towels, washed dishes and stacked up papers neatly and placed them in a basket. We took out trash and my husband mowed the grass. We finished everything is an hour’s time or so and then moved on to whatever task was needed next. Mama directed us, she comforted her friend and would tell us what what was needed, “They’re going to need some paper products, for when people come. Amy, you run down to the store and get those. While you’re out, run by the post office.” I was handed a letter to mail.
The things we did that August morning, before the hustle and bustle that comes when a dearly loved one passes weren’t really a big deal, not to us anyway. I never even gave it a second thought really until later, when the calm began to set in after her husband had been laid to rest and the real grieving began.
“You cleaned my house for me. Thank you.”
Those were her words to me. What she had remembered, what had mattered.
It had been no deal to me. I hadn’t over extended myself. It hadn’t cost me a dime. I’d only done what needed doing in the moment, yet that small act had meant so very much to her.
She still reminds me of that when I see her, she’s long since moved away from the grand old house in the city. She’s moved on in life and in love, yet that 22 year old act of kindness she still remembers. I can hardly recall it, and it certainly doesn’t even cross my mind when I think of her or her late husband but that is what she remembers in those first days of grief.
As I’ve traversed life I’ve come to realize oftentimes it’s the not big things that are most impactful. Those moments when we are unaware of their significance that turn out to be a really big deal.
“The greatest among you will be your servant.” Matthew 23:11