by Jo-Anne Paquette.
While I was thinking about this article today, I bumped into a young woman on the road, riding her bike. She stopped and we spoke, and as she was about to ride off she said, "I have a picture of me, you, and my brother from about 10 years ago." We laughed thinking of how things have changed in those years.
I have walked around the village in the last weeks, pondering how many things have changed over the past years when I lived at St. Joe’s. The changes that first come to mind are in the form of those who have departed into another world:
Blanche, who played the organ at the parish each Sunday, and for endless other occasions, for many years. Who welcomed, spoke up for, defended where it was needed, and simply offered hospitality. One could always find a listening ear at her table. She shared her memories and wisdom with everyone, and passed on warmth as she did it.
Agnes, always up for a visit, a card game, or to tell you a story. Her stories required that you draw a map in your mind of the multitude of connections of who is related to whom, so that you could understand even some of the stories she shared. Agnes, who connected each event with a meal which she provided, before she beat you at cards, and who could always be counted on.
Stella, always up for a friendly chat on her evening walks. Even those whom she didn’t know were welcomed into the conversation and shared with. And because her walks were so predictable, you knew when you could drop in for a chat and a cup of tea.
A big belly laugh and some new "facts of life" in the Valley could always be found in a conversation with Benny, as well as a widening perspective, some good fun, and a cup of tea with him and his good wife. And as we visit Mary, who is still with us, we remember all this again.
Rosemary, generous and faithful in her dependability, a friend of many, who lived simply—St. Francis being one of her close friends.
Obviously this is not an extensive list of friends who have touched our lives over the years, but only a few of the many who touched my life, and have gone before us.
With these few examples, what comes quickly to mind when I ponder life at St. Joe’s and in this Valley are gratitude and family.
Looking up the word gratitude in the dictionary I found "thankfulness, appreciative of gifts received." (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary). That would describe what fills me when I think of St. Joe’s. Gratitude is one of those gifts that keep on giving. Sometimes years after an event or an exchange, thanksgiving can bubble up in the heart for kindness recalled, or a new realization of what’s been received.
"Unless a grain of wheat falls onto the ground and dies it remains but a single grain" (Jn 12:24). We know it is true, that when we plant seeds they die, and then produce a harvest. But this is also true with many relationships in life. Parents sacrifice for their children, friends for one another, especially where community life is being lived. To give life someone offers theirs up, even when the offering isn’t noticed. Isn’t that the way love is? We continue to remember what has been sacrificed for us, and it spurs on our own awareness of love, and desire to serve.
To serve comes to mind when I watch how those in this Valley live. I see generosity: a life built on love of God, hard work, and thought of neighbor. We see the truth of our need for one another and the joy of living for another in the reality of farming, which was and is foundational to this community.
And family. A friend was sharing about her relationship to Madonna House and St. Joe’s, and she said "I never really thought of Madonna House as a community, or anything else, because they were part of our family; they were always part of our lives." This is the warmth of acceptance.
I can’t begin to tell what I’ve learned from the years I lived at St. Joe’s, but I certainly have many memories of friendship, kindnesses, opening of hearts, and being welcomed into lives which continues to deeply touch my life.
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