We were driving to Five Oaks, a United Church camp, where K-W Hab has had its annual retreat for the past 23 years. I've spoken there more than at any other single conference anywhere in the world. It's like visiting friends as much as it's like working a gig. They had offered us a vegetarian picnic lunch and so we were rushing to get there on time.
I picked up the phone and called Phyl to see if she'd gotten our package. Phyl is a wonderful woman that Joe and I have known for decades. We met her at our church in Magog when we lived in Quebec. We met under odd circumstances and have continued a friendship over the years and across the miles. Phyl has been housebound for a number of years and only recently had to sell her house and move into a care facility nearby. She settled well there and seems genuinely happy with her care.
But, she is lonely. Most of her friends have died or are no longer able to travel to visit her. Her husband died years ago and they never had children. We keep in touch with her because we like her, admire her and are enriched by her. NOT because we are part of the little she has left. We send her postcards from everywhere we lecture, we send her little packages of goodies to brighten her day. I love to shop. This is not a burden. We had sent a package and wanted to ensure that she had recieved it. So, I called.
Phyl and I chatted and we talked about the package, which had arrived. She then talked about the goings on in the care home and about the various staff who have come to mean so much to her. It was a pleasant enough chat. I passed the phone over to Joe who said, 'Oh Phyl, we are driving through the country and the Michaelmas Daisies are in full bloom.' I heard her voice in excited response. Joe has always known exactly the right thing to say to Phyl and they talked flowers and fall colours.
Then I thought about Phyl's history with the United Church and thought that maybe she'd know the Five Oaks retreat. I whispered to Joe to ask her about it and he did. Again I heard her voice. Joe sat quietly, smiling as her voice buzzed in his ear. She told him that she had been there in 1950 and told him stories about people long ago parted, pranks long ago pulled, a purpose long ago pursued. Her voice sounded stronger than I've heard it in years. She visited a memory when she was young, a memory that she cherished, a memory she talked about with relish. She's sometimes uncertain about the present but she's never lost in the past.
I was there to talk to these young people about community. I began by telling them about the phone call to Phyl. About how one day we all of us, may have a community only of one. That we might learn from Phyl, she created memories, strong memories, to keep her company. She lived a life WORTH remembering. She did things WORTH recollecting. She loved people WORTH revisiting. She is a community of one, but her mind is well populated.
A life of love and purpose sometimes is its own reward.
Some want a crown in heaven. Phyl, the earthly Phyl, finds gems along the streets of memory. May I one day roll down that same road.