From Chicken Soup for the African American Soul

I Am My Sister’s Keeper

The best mirror is an old friend.

George Herbert

The Thanksgiving-Christmas holiday season conjures feelings that I do not have at any other time of year. I live in the Midwest, and there is always a chill in the air and plenty of warmth in the spirit. The contrast is exhilarating, and the stimulation causes my heart to pump wildly from the expectancy of this wondrous holiday season. Inevitably it delivers a joy that is inexplicable. When I was a child, my mother stressed using this season to convey appreciation to those who had impacted your life during the year, and to this day that is the focus of my giving. There is the mailman, the dry cleaners, the person at the corner store who speaks to me, the doctors and their staffs, and the list goes on. I usually find that my energy runs out before I reach out to all those who have blessed my life. But, for years, there was a “forgotten” group that never crossed my mind.

I had lost both of my parents by the time I was twenty-four, and because I had married and moved away at twenty-one, the distance slowly erased my memory of those people who had been so significant to my “growing years.” Time went by, and it was not until nearly thirty-plus years later when I attended a family member’s funeral in my hometown that one of the women I had known, Mrs. T., came to me and was overjoyed to see me. I was stunned, and a reality pervaded my soul. It had been eons since I had seen her and many others from my childhood years.

“Oh, my God,” I said to her. “I didn’t know you were still with us!”

Her son had died when he was thirty-six, and she was now over ninety years old. She remembered me like it was yesterday. Her son and I were great friends. We had gone through elementary, junior and senior high, and graduated together. Back in that day, every parent looked out for you, and you had the same kind of respect for them as you did for your own parents.

This encounter rocked my very being. I had run into several other elders in recent past years, but none matched this connection. When I saw my first Sunday school teacher from my home church, he nearly cried. I promised him I would write. And I did. I had seen others from time to time whose emotional response was similar and I embraced each and then wrote them. But the depth of the lesson did not hit me until I followed my Spirit in reaching out to Mrs. T.

It was the holiday time, and as usual, I was reflecting on the year. I realized I had not written to Mrs. T. for a few months, so I decided to give her a call. She answered the phone and was quite excited about my being on the phone. Now she does not like talking long distance no matter who is paying for it. She always says it costs too much, so you have to hurry through your conversation. I got the gist of how she was doing and that things were going well except for a “little arthritis.” Her demeanor always reminded me that life was about the business of living and giving. She was still driving others around who needed her help. She started telling me about her church’s anniversary and how thrilled she was to be wearing a long dress and going to one of the city’s finest hotels. I listened, smiled to myself and hung onto the wisdom of her every word.

As soon as I hung the phone up, I began to reflect and felt a prompting in the Spirit to order her a corsage for her special event. I told the florist that she was ninety-three, and to make her something beautiful, but simple. I hung up the phone and quietly thanked God for her, the opportunity to show my appreciation, and for the love that we have for our churches. They have always been our refuge.

Two days later on Friday morning, I played my messages and Mrs. T. was on there—very, very emotional. All I could hear was my name over and over—and how shocked she was to get the flowers. I tilted my head to the side and smiled, and felt that feeling that occurs when your giving touches “that place” in someone. I felt as if God had chosen me to be the lucky one to deliver this joy. As I moved about my day, the same Holy Spirit urged me to call her. She could not stop telling me what the gesture meant to her and how surprised she had been when the flowers arrived.

Then she said, “Now why did I have to wait until I was ninety-three years old to get my first corsage!”

In that moment, I’m not sure which of us felt more blessed.

Nikki D. Shearer-Tilford

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