Don't we all have that one person in our life that we try to avoid, simply because being around them is tedious at best? For me, at least when I lived at home, that person was Susan. She started attending our church when I was in high school, and to say the least, my already limited patience did not extend to her quirky ways and often embarrassing remarks.
This afternoon I was shocked to receive a call from my sister with the news that Susan died today.
What? Susan? How could this happen? She had provided us with plenty of stories over the years, from her point-blank honesty to the numerous, extra-long voicemails that always started and ended the same way, with some random message in between. But... dead? All of a sudden I was overwhelmed with sadness and began to think about Susan as a person.
She had a willingness to help, but in her own way- "Can you bring a bag of candy for VBS, Susan?" No, but 75 cans of Chef Boyardee were her contribution. Or an Alabama football mobile for my niece's princess-themed nursery. Or, after Dad mentioned a singer in church, a deluxe collector's edition of that person showed up on his desk. She was never one to bring what she was asked for, but what she did bring was always super generous. (Her "$20 pound cakes" were legendary! =)
She'd miss church for weeks but then show up with her multitude of bags, sitting in the back with her boyfriend, Trey. When she did come, she'd make sure that Preacher was taken care of, especially at fellowships. She'd check on his drink, dessert, whatever she thought he needed. She always talked to the kids, always had a greeting for everyone... even if that greeting was one of her less-than-subtle observations about someone's appearance (which were classic Susan).
Since that phone call, I've felt really down, and it's not just because Susan is gone. It's because I so regret the fact that I was really never that nice to her. Oh, I never told her she was annoying or that I would rather avoid her, but I basically ignored her when she was around. Looking back, I feel like a really selfish person. I mean, how hard would it have been to show kindness to her? She didn't have many friends, or even close relationships with a lot of her family. I know she loved my family. We didn't have to be best friends... but I could have at least spoken to her more than occasionally.
I can't believe that Susan is gone... that she won't be bustling into church with her plastic bags or bringing a case of some random item to the kitchen. Or that she won't be leaving messages for my mom... "Hey Mrs. Ginger, it's me Susan...", or giving baby advice to the moms in the nursery. What I really can't believe is that I won't have the opportunity to undo the way I viewed her, because it took her being gone for me to change my perspective. I very much regret that. But I will no longer put people in a box and convince myself that I don't need or have to talk to them, or show kindness. Everyone deserves a smile and a hello, no matter what they say or do.
That's what Susan taught me.