The last time Dana and I had a conversation of sorts was on July 1. I had inquired as to her health. She was upbeat regarding her bout with cancer. She said she had “only a few treatments left and then another scan. I actually feel good except for the fatigue. The most interesting part of this journey, my attitudes are changing. I’m becoming creatively and intellectually stimulated and I’ve developed a peaceful sort of persona, lol. At first I thought it was the drugs, but that isn’t the reason.”
Then she went on to ask specific questions about me and my health and life, giving me a pep talk and telling me to stand firm against frustration. And she wished me a “wonderful 4th” (of July).
Dana died yesterday. I just got word this morning.
I don’t think I’ve seen Dana since high school, if then. It had been years since we had talked. She contacted me through Facebook in December two years ago. There were no phone conversations and we never saw one another in person. At that time she was dealing with “a fair amount of emotional turmoil.” Her breast cancer then was stage 2 or 3. Still, she was upbeat, optimistic, and hopeful even as she talked about upcoming chemo, a double mastectomy, and “a clean up round of radiation.” She said, “It’s been a numbing experience and I can’t seem to move past numb. The plan to heal my body is the right course for me and combined with exercise and healthy diet this is a treatable and survivable disease. My emotions will probably take longer to heal. I just can’t seem to connect right now. I’ve always been a pragmatic person, more inclined towards the intellectual/analytical part of an equation rather than the overly emotional side of things. Right now I’m wanting to really connect with the deeper spiritual side of my nature but I’m having hard time finding it.”
Just so we’re clear here, I wasn’t sure why Dana even sent me that message on Facebook. Perhaps she had read that I had become a minister and was simply seeking spiritual direction on that level. But she didn’t say exactly why she was writing.
Nonetheless, for several months, off and on, we communicated always through private messages on Facebook. Once or twice I suggested emails or phone calls or even getting together when I made one of my trips in the direction of Kansas City. She always said she wanted to see me, but the timing was never right in terms of her health. I’ve found that there are some very fine lines in pastoral care that one must negotiate carefully. Yes, sometimes it is good to just break down the door and visit. Most of the time, however, I take a person at her word and if she isn’t up for visitors, then that should be honored.
I was still approaching this as clergy as I had no other explanation as to why she would be confiding in me after 40-50 years.
Then on May 9 (either on or near Mother’s Day) this year, I discovered something I had completely forgotten. Dana and I had been in Sunday School together as children. She posted something on Facebook about me and for everyone to see. Just a little statement of gratitude for the comfort I gave her when her mother died. I still didn’t make the connection so I sent her yet another private message and a beautiful quilt pieced together for me.
“Gretchen,” she wrote, “you may not remember, but it’s clear as a bell to me. We were in the stair area” (I assumed at the church as we didn’t go to the same school as children), “I don’t remember the day, but I was in the area alone and you appeared and asked me what was wrong. I don’t remember the specific conversation, but I do remember you being there and taking the time to listen and asking me if I wanted to come wherever you were going. I suddenly didn’t feel alone anymore.”
I was rather overcome. In fact, I had tears. And I had to ask, “How old were we when your mom died?”
“We were about 7 or 8. I think it was 1960,” she said.
Once again, she revealed that she knew more about my life than I knew about hers: she knew I had no children. “I’ve been a CASA volunteer and can speak from firsthand experience that some women should never have had children and some women without children are the most nurturing role models around. It’s that which lives in the heart that truly matters.”
I responded, “You brought tears to my eyes in more ways than you can imagine, Dana. I don’t have a memory of talking with you that day, but I’m glad I put my generally selfish intentions aside for a few moments if it was a help to you. I’m thankful it was.” I had to acknowledge my 8-year-old self-absorption.
“It’s funny,” she said, “I don’t remember you being selfish at all. We were wee ones, but there was a side of the woman you were destined to become that appeared that day.”
And she concluded that day’s exchange with “I’m really enjoying your blog.”
Yes, I suspect Dana made that original and continuing contact with me because she heard I had become a minister. Perhaps even more, however, she did it because she remembered a stairway conversation when we were eight-years-old.
I relate this today because Dana died yesterday and I recalled how I was overcome with her kindness toward me 55 years after an awkward 8-year-old apparently showed her a little (and I imagine awkward) compassion. It’s not what I did that was so important. It was what she did – not only remembering a kindness but relating it back to me. I would never have known, never remembered that as a kid I could be a nice person and that someone else was grateful for it.
You just never know when you might have an impact on someone’s life or even a day.
There is an ancient Hebrew word that kind of looks like hesed when it’s written in English. There isn’t a one-word English equivalent for it, but it is often translated as a combination of two English words written as one: lovingkindness. It most often is applied in the Old or First Testament to God and encompasses even more than a combination of those words. Sometimes it is translated “steadfast love.” It is a description of God’s character or, I suppose, when we look through the lens of the New or Second Testament, God’s grace. Hesed or lovingkindness includes all of God’s wonderful traits.
I guess lovingkindness is the key here. I am grateful for the life of Dana Crouch Davis, one of whom I knew so little and who I could only identify through Facebook photos, but who made me feel like a really good person when I most needed to feel that way. I’ll wrap myself in her quilt of her lovingkindness for years to come.
1 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures forever!
5 Out of my distress I called on the LORD;
the LORD answered me and set me in a broad place.
6 With the LORD on my side I do not fear.
What can mortals do to me?
7 The LORD is on my side to help me;
I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
8 It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to put confidence in mortals.
9 It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to put confidence in princes.
29 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever. – Psalm 118:1, 5-9, 29