Many years ago, Sister Peter, the nun who taught me in first grade at St. Stephen’s School in Anoka, MN, learned that I had been ordained a priest. For several years thereafter until her death, I would receive a Christmas card from her every year. Of course, she was a teacher until the end. I say this because each card contained a short story or a prayer with the important words underlined. The short story below was one of my favorites. It reminded me of how blessed I am and have been. I hope it does the same for you.
Everything is Relative
They huddled inside the storm door—two children in old coats.
“Got any aluminum cans, Lady?”
I was very busy. I wanted to say no, until I looked at their feet. Thin little shoes, sopped with sleet. “Come in and sit by the fire, and I’ll make you a cup of cocoa.” There was no conversation. Their soggy shoes left marks on the clean hearthstone.
Cocoa and cake would fortify them against the chill outside. After serving them, I went back to the kitchen and started on my household budget, as they sat enjoying the warmth.
After a few minutes, the silence in the front room struck through to me. I looked in. The girl held her empty cup in her hands, looking at it. The boy asked in a flat voice: “Lady, are you rich?”
“Am I rich: Mercy no.” I looked at my shabby slipcovers.
The girl put her cup back in its saucer carefully. “Your cups match your saucers.” Her voice was old with a hunger that was not of the stomach.
They left then, holding their small sack of cans. They hadn’t said thank you. They didn’t have to. They had done more that that. Plain blue pottery cups and saucers—but they matched. I tested the potatoes and stirred the gravy. Potatoes and brown gravy, a roof over my head, my husband with a good steady job—these things matched too.
I moved the chairs back from the fire and tided the living room. The muddy prints of small shoes were still on the hearth. I let them be.
I want them there in case I forget how rich I am.
At the end of the story Sister Peter had appended the following words: “Perhaps we are all a little better off than we think we are. It doesn’t hurt to want something more, but it is just as important to appreciate what we have and recognize how very rich and how very blessed we are.”
Thanks for being the Light of Christ and an occasion of God’s grace for me these past fifteen years. For this I have been blessed. Because of it, I am truly rich.
Fr. John M. Bauer