It took me two days, but I finally got all the leaves raked up in the yard. I used the blower to shoo every one of those darn dead things away from the house and the fence and the hedges and then applied old-fashioned hard labor to rake them into piles that my kids, in days long ago, used to love to jump into. I thought about that as I was working; saying my beads on the tips of my gloved fingers as I bent down for yet another scoop and stuffed the leaves into the recyclable bag, knowing I would call my chiropractor next week to alleviate the inevitable ache in my back that would certainly come despite how much I stretched to loosen my muscles that very morning. Old back muscles sometimes don’t follow proscribed protocols no matter what anybody says.
After the job was finally accomplished, my mood perked up as it always does whenever I’ve completed a task successfully and my eyes take in the results of my labor. This is indeed a blessing.
I know it’s a simple comparison. I didn’t score a hat trick like Wayne Gretzky or throw a Hail Mary touchdown pass like Joe Montana to win the game or catch a line drive at third base and end the inning like Brooks Robinson or swish a three-pointer just as the buzzer sounded that was nothing but net like Michael Jordan.
I just raked the leaves.
But it was great because little things are great in God’s eyes. Take a look at Matthew 7:25-27:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?
“Look at the Birds in the Sky”
And, as I was working outside, raking the lawn for the last time this year, I heard a fan-like sound above me that intensified by the millisecond. There was a flock of birds, maybe tens-of-thousands of them, flying at warp speed overhead. Black Starlings, I think. Their wings flapping as they cut crisply beneath and into a low, cloud-covered gray sky. They were in a hurry to get somewhere. Maybe to a southern destination. It was programmed into their DNA to do this. And, I felt a sudden pang of jealously.
Why wasn’t I programmed this way, too? It would be so easy to follow the flock and make my way to a predetermined destination without forethought. Living a life regulated by instinct would be nice: no serious considerations to dwell on; no temptations to be bothered with. Just taking wing and flying with everybody else to where we all know we have to go. Simple.
And, then I thought, hold the phone, I’ve never been anyone to go with the crowd. I’ve always prided myself in flying solo. I’ve never goose stepped to anything. God gave me a brain; ergo, he gave me wits to think with and discern the difference between right and wrong; between what is popular and what’s demanded of me, personally, as an independent soul; what Robert Frost said so eloquently in The Road Not Taken (1916):
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence;
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Now, you can take Frost’s poem in two ways: you can believe that the traveler’s “sigh” is one of lament because he didn’t opt for the right path and he regretted his decision, or one of happiness because he did choose the right road after all.
I agree with the latter. Let me put it another way:
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few (Matthew 7:13-14).
What, I think, Jesus is talking about in the above passage from Matthew’s Gospel, is something Robert Frost alluded to, but hedged on. There are two divergent paths. The one less traveled is one fraught with obstacles, unpopular, and divisive, because it can separate you from both family and friends, perhaps, in our days, from success in our careers, certainly in politics. This path chooses not what the world thinks, in worldly terms, but what is right and true and kindles a fire in your heart. It’s a hike, I grant you. More like a trek over tough terrain in bogs we would rather not slog through and over mountain tops we may not like to scale. Of course, it’s not easy. It wasn’t meant to be. It’s our Via Dolorosa – our path to perfection.
We all remember that after the Resurrection, Our Lord met two disciples who were travelling on the road to Emmaus. I always found it curious that they didn’t recognize Him until He broke bread. But then I was reminded of the fact that He appeared to Mary Magdala at the tomb and she didn’t recognize Him right away either.
Just a hundred years ago, in Poland, Sister Faustina opened her door to a traveler, a hungry beggar who she did not recognize. He was poor, ragged, and frozen. She fed him some warm soup. And then, and only then, did Jesus reveal Himself to her. I don’t think this was a test or anything like that for the saintly sister. I think it was a lesson for us.
Now, I’m an Irish dreamer who writes stories and have told tall tales my entire life (I’m not a liar, I just tend to embellish things you see, to make life more interesting). But I was just wondering if we’ve seen Jesus in our lifetime like Sister Faustina did? Well, why not?
Recently, a dear friend of mine passed away after a lifetime of service to her community, her church, and the poor. Her name was Betty. Some, even the pastor of our church, at her funeral mass, said that she was a saint.
She met travelers all the time and welcomed them with love and affection.
Whenever someone needed a coat or a hug, a Thanksgiving meal or a toy for their children at Christmas, you needed only to ask Betty. Suddenly, the coat or the meal or the toy, not to mention the hug, was always there.
You see, it was because Betty, like Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, saw Christ in everybody. She saw Jesus every day. She saw Our Lord in all of us: rich or poor, healthy or infirm, free or imprisoned, saintly or no.
This advent, I’ve put Betty’s funeral card on top of my bureau where I can see it every day. I kiss it. I pray for her soul and for her family. And then I ask her to return the favor, because she has more power now than at any time in her life on earth – tremendous power. She smiles at my prayer, I think. Because she sees Christ now in person, in both the beatific vision and, as she always did, in poor, traveling souls like you and me.