I’d like to take a moment and share a story about a person I have the honor of working with, Sarah, a sweet lady whose actions constantly remind me of one particular scene in the movie “The Bucket List” starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. In the scene the two men were in Egypt gazing at the vista of the pyramids when Freeman shared the ancient Egyptians belief that when they come to the gates of paradise in the afterlife they will be asked two questions, the answers to which determine whether or not they are admitted. The first is, “Have you found joy in your life?” The second question turns out to be similar but more gripping: “Have you brought joy to the lives of others?”
Two months ago Sarah informed me her mother’s health, which I knew had been up and down for the last few years, was on the down side and wasn’t going to come back up this time. Sarah was telling me this because she was going to need to spend a little more time w/her mom getting her set up with Hospice and such.
2 weeks ago Sarah updated me with the news her mom would probably pass on very soon and therefore Sarah would probably be out a few days. But Sarah’s tone wasn’t sad or morose because Sarah’s mom had been physically suffering the last couple of years and everyone, including Sarah’s mother, was looking forward to the day when there would be no more pain.
I asked a fellow co-worker and good friend of Sarah’s, Deanna, what we could do for Sarah, her mom and her family. I didn’t want to send flowers because . . . well . . . whereas Sarah would think flowers were nice, that type of material sentiment isn’t her style. Fortunately, Deanna came through with a GREAT idea, just as she always does. Deanna spread the word among Sarah’s closest co-workers and the GREAT idea took off from there.
Below is the email Sarah sent to all of us upon receiving the “condolences”:
To all of you who were involved in the “socks as condolence gift operation” – thank you. J It was soooo amazing to return to work and see – not flowers, not cards – but socks. I can’t tell you how much it means to me – and how it reinforces the idea that despite all of the challenges we face, sometimes, this really can be a Great Place to Work – because of the fabulous people.
A couple of you have asked for a bit more of an explanation of the socks.
I’m part of the community at a nondescript place on 6th & Burnside (in Portland, OR) - the Downtown Chapel of St. Vincent de Paul (www.downtownchapel.org). There’s a tiny Roman Catholic parish there, but most people in Old Town know our little corner for the hospitality services that are open to absolutely anyone as guests or volunteers.
When I began volunteering there ~5 years or so ago, about 25 people would come on an average morning for coffee, donated shampoo, or perhaps a change of clothes or help with a bus ticket home. On the day my mom died, 107 homeless people (many of whom are also mentally ill) came to morning hospitality. About 125 people each week come to get a bag of donated food (some of which comes from the Oregon Food Bank). Five years ago, we gave out perhaps 20 bags of food per week.
About four years ago, a volunteer began a once-weekly foot-washing ministry for 2-3 people per morning who wanted to experience it. After carefully washing their feet, she would give them a pair of clean, dry socks. Another volunteer quickly noticed that for people who live outside, foot-care can often provide a very inexpensive and non-threatening means of assessing health. Now, three mornings a week a room is full of nursing students from the University of Portland or Linfield College’s School of Nursing. They wash the feet of many, many more guests, and also have diagnosed diabetes, broken bones, systemic fungal infections, and even gangrene. Through this simple intervention and the relationships that are built between our guests and regular volunteers, we’ve been able to help some people get medical treatment they wouldn’t have sought on their own. And yes – everyone who comes in can get a free pair of dry socks, which are so essential in this climate, especially in the winter.
My mom may have passed, but the socks that y’all donated are a bridge from my work family to my family on the streets – two groups of people who mean a lot to me. The socks are a very, very special gift – and I thank you all so much.
When someday Sarah stands at the gates of the afterlife, I have every belief the 2nd question will never be posed to her as the answer will have been long-ago filled in.