A kid, a grandma and a dog named Sammy

A Kid, a Grandma and Some Wisdom from Sammy

The kid looks about ten-years-old, He’s leading a very old lady, I assume his grandma, across the crowded restaurant. The lady is obviously having difficulty seeing and appears to have some balance issues as well. The boy has her firmly by the arm while he keeps an eye out to shield her from bumping into the noontime bustle of customers and service people.

I watch him guide his grandma towards the restrooms at the rear of the restaurant. The Men’s Room and the Ladies Room adjoin one another and, at first, the old lady starts towards the men’s room. Gently, the boy nudges her towards the appropriate restroom then waits outside while she enters.

The kid skooches himself against the wall, trying to make himself as inconspicuous as possible as he waits outside. Patrons go in and out of the facilities on both sides of the aisle. The old woman seems to be taking a long time and the boy looks a little self-conscious, kicking his feet and hands around, boy-like, as he stands there at his post. Eventually, she comes out and the boy leads her back to her table.

Simple story right? Deserves an AWW! from those of us not too jaded by life. The ten-year-old boy has been taught well by his parents. Good for them and good for him.

Little acts of kindness like that always touch me. To tell the truth, the incident put me in a better frame of mind the rest of the day.

I was trying to put myself in the place of the boy’s grandmother, too. Not many years ago, she was probably leading her little daughter or son to the restroom in some long forgotten restaurant, the little kid grasping his crotch and asking Mom to hurry up before he had an accident. Now, how many years later, the mom grown old was being gently guided by one of her grandchildren. The cycle of life goes on and we hardly notice the years passing us by.

When I was interviewing for my position of Grandpa at the Children’s Village, I recall asking Lia Rowley, the founder of the Village, “What will happen when we grandparents become too old to volunteer or incapable of volunteering with the kids? Lia thought for a moment, then she said. “Well, when that time comes, maybe the kids will have to take care of their village grammas and grandpas.” That’s part of living in a village.

Reflecting on her words, I could envision a time in the future when one of our little munchkins knocks on my door with a tray of food or offers to take out the garbage for me. It’s not far fetched. Much as we all hate the thought of finding ourselves dependent on others, not too many of us die with our boots on.

Putting myself in the shoes of the aged grandma, my good mood was going south, turning towards melancholy city. I turned to my four-legged therapist, Sammy and began to tell her all about it. She listened without even once interrupting me. Then, lifting those big brown eyes at me, she reminded me that life is lived in the present. “C’mon Grandpa Hank, you are one lucky old dude to have the opportunity to help take care of the kids TODAY. That’s all there is, you know. Use your time and be grateful. The future will take care of itself.” Then, she added with a wag of her tail, “Besides, it’s time for my walk.”


Our Individual Stories , Pages in the Story of the World

“We need to understand that our life stories and the history of the world were written by the same hand.”

Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

Recently, I discovered an author I had never read before, a Brazilian writer by the name of Paolo Coelho. In a thin little volume called “The Alchemist” Coelho spoke to me of life, of God and the human search for meaning as few men ever have. I’d like to share with you a smidgeon of his wisdom. Maybe his words will speak to you, too.

The theme of “The Alchemist” is that every person has his or her own destiny to fulfill. To seek it out, to be true to that destiny is what life is all about. For the shepherd boy, Santiago,” what started out to be a journey to find hidden treasures ended in his discovering that the real treasure lay buried within. More than that, the boy comes to the realization that his destiny is linked with the cast of characters he meets on his life journey.

“Why must we listen to our hearts?” the young boy asked of the Alchemist as they wandered across the desert, on the boy’s quest to see the pyramids. “Because wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.”

Yes, the boy ponders, but sometimes it is difficult to follow your heart. Even when it speaks clearly, there are times when we do not choose to listen. The noise of the world, the ambivalence in our souls, our reluctance to change, makes us deaf to the voice within. Perhaps the biggest obstacle of all is our reluctance to acknowledge that we are part of something, Someone bigger than ourselves. We depend on others to do what we are called to do just as they depend on us.

Our destiny is worked out not as separate individuals or with a God in the heavens but with the God who resides in our souls. The same God who exists in a grain of sand is also within us. Creation may have begun with a big bang but it didn’t stop there. Creation continues even now and we are part of it. In building our world, we are co-creators with God and with our fellow human beings.

On his journey, the shepherd boy comes to realize that “I have inside me the winds, the deserts, the oceans, the stars and everything created in the universe. We were all made by the same hand and we have the same soul.”

The presence of God is beyond time and history. Everything is in God and always has been. Even in our deaths, nothing is lost, not our lives or our memories, the fun moments or the sad, the people we loved, the songs we sung. All is taken up in what the author calls the Soul of the World. The very remains of our mortal bodies are still part of the universe. We live forever, part of the great Soul of the World.

When we look on life from that perspective, our personal destiny takes on a whole new meaning and dignity. Our lives are part of the Creator’s plan not just for us as individuals but for the world.


Is what we “get out” of Sunday church the point?

What Do We “get out of” going to Church on Sunday

Having breakfast with a friend after Mass last Sunday, I was a little surprised to hear her say bluntly “That’s it for me. I’m not going to Church here anymore. The liturgy is same-o, same-o every week, the music is mediocre, the sermons mostly uninspired. I’m just not getting anything out of it anymore.”

When I asked her “Is that the point?…what you get out of it ?” She replied, with a little edge to her voice, “Yes, it’s the point. If my soul is not getting nourished, why should I continue to go? If I sign up for a yoga class and find out that I’m not getting my money’s worth, I don’t continue to attend. If I find that the Spanish language class I enrolled in is not working out, I quit.” Makes perfect sense to me.

I have to acknowledge that there are Sunday Mass experiences that are pretty bad. On that particular Sunday we had a foreign-born priest we couldn’t understand, a screechy choir and a little baby who let it be known that he was not ready to be dragged into church. So, I did understand her frustration. And yet, and yet…….


Isn’t Sunday Mass somehow different from attending a series of lectures or taking an art appreciation class? Isn’t what we bring to a church service, not what we take from it, the point? We show up at our parish church because we are part of a wider family of Catholics. I see it like that semi-obligatory Sunday visit to grandma’s house. It’s something we do because it seems like the right thing. Sometimes, we will experience a rush from the experience but more likely, any spiritual high we feel will be a pleasant surprise. We’re not there to receive but to give. Isn’t that what the prayer of St.Francis is all about?

When we put our butts in the pews we make a statement that we want to be part of something much bigger than our own needs. We come to honor the God who created us out of love and continues to grace us with the divine presence. That’s what is important, not the fact that the choir is slightly off key or that the old guy in front of me is rattling his rosary beads and making my spiritual experience less meaningful.

That doesn’t mean our priest and parish staff gets off the hook if they are too lazy or lack the imagination to come up with a liturgy that is meaningful. We have a right to expect a well-prepared homily and a ceremony that will help us connect with our God and with one another. It doesn’t let ourselves off the hook either if we fail to participate in the liturgy to the extent we are able. If we’re bored with the same old lectors every Sunday or the same old geezers taking up the collection, maybe it’s time we step up and offer to help.

What I am trying to say, however inexpertly, is that the very fact that we are blessed with the opportunity of celebrating God’s presence in our midst at Sunday Mass transcends any personal good feeling or emotional rush we experience. Ultimately, it’s, dare I say it?, not about how we sing our hymns or when we genuflect but how we show our love and concern to the folks in Church with us and, by extension, our fellow human beings with whom we share our planet.