On Monday, January 15, we Americans pay tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who gave his life working for the equality of all peoples. Friday, January 19 is the annual March for Life in Washington, DC. Both days celebrate the precious gift of life. Here are two true stories that also speak of the beauty, mystery, and sacredness of life.
“Piano Duets”: This first story comes from William Bausch’s book, The Word in and out of Season.
Margaret Patrick had just moved into the senior center and was being introduced to the other residents in the large dining room. Margaret, who is Black, noticed a piano in the room. She mentioned that she used to play the piano a lot before she had her stroke. Now her right hand was useless. One of the staff members said, “Wait here” and scurried away. In a few minutes, she returned followed by a white haired woman using a walker.
The staff member introduced Margaret to Ruth Eisenberg, explaining, “Ruth used to play the piano too, but like you, she’s not been able to play since her stroke. Ruth has a good right hand and you have a good left hand. I have the feeling the two of you can do something wonderful together.”
And the two women did. On that first day they sat down at the piano together and played Chopin’s waltz in D-flat. Bausch writes, “Side by side, the two sat on the piano bench. Two healthy hands—one with long, graceful black fingers, the other with short, plump white ones—moved rhythmically across the ebony and ivory keys.”
Soon they began to entertain audiences at churches, schools, rehabilitation places, and senior centers. They quickly learned they had more in common than music. Both were widows and great-grandmothers. Both had lost sons. But neither could give without the other. Margaret said, “My music was taken away from me, but God gave me Ruth.” Ruth said, “It was God’s miracle that brought us together.”
* * * * *
“Helping the Stranger”: this story, from the book Small Miracles by Halberstam and Leventhal, is attributed to Greg O’Leary which is a pseudonym.
Greg O’Leary, a middle aged man, was walking down a dark street in his neighborhood one evening when he heard muffled screams coming from behind some bushes. He slowed down and listened again. He froze in fear when he realized he was hearing the sounds of a struggle: grunting, panting, crying, the tearing of fabric. Someone was being assaulted.
“Should I get involved?” he wondered. He was not athletic, young, or brave. What if the attacker attacked him? Shouldn’t he just run for help? But something made him stop to help that night. Once he had made that decision, he says, “I became strangely transformed.” He ran behind the bushes and pulled the assailant off the woman. In doing so, he fell to the ground and the two men wrestled for a few moments until the attacker jumped up and ran away.
Out of breath, O’Leary could make out the outline of a woman crouched behind a tree sobbing. He got up slowly and said to her gently, “It’s okay. The man ran away. You’re safe now.”
There was a long pause and then he heard her words uttered in wonder and amazement.“Dad, is that you?”And from behind the tree stepped his youngest daughter, Katherine.
Some questions for reflection:
What factors enabled Margaret and Ruth to bridge the racial divide between them?
What factors enable some people to help total strangers despite their fears and feelings of inadequacy?
What are some of the divisions that need “bridging” in your personal life? Our country? Our world? What are some ways we can begin to bridge these divisions?
We give life to others in many ways. Margaret and Ruth gave life to each other through their love for music and their need for each other. O’Leary gave life to his daughter by daring to help a “stranger.”
How might you give life to someone today?
Reprinted with Sr. Melannie's permission
Sunflower Seeds: Celebrating Everyday Spirituality
“Dad, is that you?”
And from behind the tree stepped his youngest daughter, Katherine.