Yesterday was an amazing day for me. It was amazing because of encounters I had with three amazing men who have made big impacts on the people around them.
In the afternoon, I met up with a friend and we went to visit an elderly priest who now lives in an assisted living facility. My friend and I got to know this priest many years ago, and he provided us and countless others with great spiritual advice.
The walls and bookshelves of his room are filled with photos of others he has helped over his many years of service. He just celebrated his 89th birthday, and although he now struggles with several health issues, he still has a twinkle in his eye and an infectious laugh. It was a joy to be with him, even if it was for just an hour or so. Walking out of the facility, I asked myself: what impact am I making?
The next stop took my friend and I to a diner for dinner. We caught up on what’s been happening to us recently, and what our plans were for Christmas. Before we left the restaurant, my friend had to use the restroom, so I told him I would wait by the front door. After about twenty minutes, I began to worry if he was o.k., and was getting ready to check on him, when he walked out, helping an elderly man who was having difficulty standing. I later learned that my friend had found the man laying on the restroom floor, drunk as could be. My friend got him to a bench at the restaurant entrance, and then my friend knelt in front of the man and began talking. I wanted to give them some privacy, so I stepped away and couldn’t hear what was being said. My friend is a very compassionate person, and many people are drawn to him. As he continued talking, several people passed them both as they either coming to or going from the restaurant, and I could tell they too were touched by my friend’s kindness and compassion for this stranger. When we walked out, I wondered to myself: what impact am I making?
The next stop was the wake of parish priest in Baltimore City. For the last 38 years, he was the white pastor in an all black church. When he arrived all those years ago, it was thought that the parish probably wouldn’t survive. Hardly anyone came, and the neighborhood was rough, even then. Last night, as I was trying to find somewhere to park, men openly selling drugs were on almost all the corners. I wondered if I should just turn around and go home.
But I found a parking space, and grateful for the police presence around the church, I quickly went in. The church was just packed. I found my friend, who had driven in another car, against the wall at the back of the church. The 50 member Gospel choir was singing, and the music was so, so beautiful. I had never heard the songs before, but they were rich.
It was clear to me that this priest, their beloved pastor, had touched many, many lives throughout his 38 years here. He had a bad heart, and as he was walking into church last Sunday morning, he had a massive heart attack, and he was gone. Over the span of nearly forty years, a person can make a big impact, and there was no question in my mind, as I stood in the back of his beloved church, that this man changed countless lives.
I stayed as long as I could, but after about 45 minutes, I decided to head home. I said goodbye to my friend who had so powerfully cared for the homeless man at the restaurant, and stood for a moment more to take it all in. I can honestly say I’ve never been to a more profound wake than this one. So much love, so much joy, so much resurrection hope.
As I walked down the steps of that church, I thought to myself: would I ever be blessed enough to make such an impact on the lives of so many?
Now a day later, as I’m typing these words, I think I hear the challenge of these questions loud and clear, and I hope it’s the same for you. We can all make a positive impact on the people around us, but we have to do something to make it happen. We have to pray. We have to take risks. We have to see the best in people. We have to make a commitment. We have to forgive. We have to find God in all things. We have to love.
Isn’t this something to think about as we prepare for another New Year?