A few days ago my elderly neighbor Margaret appeared at my door with a bowl full of homegrown tomatoes, so I invited her in and we chatted for a few minutes. We’ve had kind of an interesting relationship from the start, what with her giving me excessive amounts of unsolicited advice about the sorry state of my front yard. Finally, I had some friends over to dig, mulch, and plant shrubs and flowers, and I thought that was the end of it. Now, of course, she considers it her personal mission to see that I water everything regularly. Truth be told, I have zero interest in yard work of any kind, so even though the yard looks tons better than it did a few months ago, I secretly resent it every time I go out in my bathrobe at the break of dawn and turn on the hose. So I have plants? Who cares?
In my defense, I have to say that Margaret can talk water uphill, and she always stands too near and steps closer to me if I take a step back. She also has a lengthy list of health concerns that she is not loathe to share. I say all that to explain why, even though we are friendly, I’m not always so eager to engage in conversation with her. But here she came that day with those tomatoes. They weren’t beautiful or deep orange red or perfectly shaped. Some even had those cracks that they get sometimes when they’re growing, where you can see crusty streaks of green and brown. But they were fresh off the vine and she wanted to give them to me.
I can tell you now, I am not worthy of such a gift.
As I stood in my living room talking to her, she told me that her son-in-law had gone to the park a couple of days earlier, called the police to tell them where he was, and then shot himself in the head. Killed himself. I am still shocked days later as I write this. What despair must that poor man have been experiencing? What grief must his wife be suffering? Dead by his own hand. It’s hard to take in. It’s hard to think about the enormous impact of such an act. But Margaret stood there with a straight back and a steady voice, enduring this anguish as she must have endured so many other tragedies in her life. Holding out to me a bowl of homegrown tomatoes in her withered old hands. Giving life even as life was being taken away. You know how that feels, don’t you God?
May I never again overlook her or find her tiresome. May I hear her with your ears, God. May I see her with your heart.