Something happened last night at my church‘s Thanksgiving potluck celebration that was completely ordinary, but struck me deeply with it’s extraordinariness. Every year, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, our community gathers for a meal together, which always tastes way better than you would imagine church food to taste. There is terrible wine but we drink it anyway, and we laugh and celebrate one another. For many of the older folks in our congregation, it is the only Thanksgiving dinner they’ll celebrate.
This year, I decided to add another layer to the celebration and create a “Tree of Gratitude” for us to share all the things we’re grateful for. One of my High School friends helped me create the construction paper tree, and more of my teenage friends and I cut out leaves for people to write what they’re thankful for on, and stick up on the wall.
About halfway through the meal, our resident collector of stray souls, Robert, came in with a girl none of us had ever seen before. There were lots of new people there, but we could tell by this girl’s mannerisms that she didn’t expect to end up at a group potluck that night. She followed Robert to the table laid out with every kind of Thanksgiving fixing we could come up with, a shock of carnelian pink hair peeking out from behind the big hoodie her face was swimming in.
Once she had her food, she found a seat on the end of a full table and started chowing down. Every once in awhile she looked up with those shifting eyes that say “Don’t talk to me. Please come talk to me! Oh God, what if someone comes to talk to me? Ugh, what if they don’t?” No stranger to this ocular communication, I walked over, introduced myself, made a name tag for her: let’s call her Dash.
At a certain point in the night, I asked my High School friends to read out all the leaves on the tree. Some got laughs (having an excellent pair of slippers), some got cheers (Obama being reelected, the Giants winning the World Series), and many were moving, as they were about love, old and new, between siblings, partners, children, and friends.
I went over afterwards to check in with Dash, to make sure she got a slice of my homemade pumpkin pie. “It’s not very pretty, but I assure you that it’s going to taste great.” I had donated another of these pies to a similar celebration at my husband’s work, and it didn’t get eaten, it was so ugly! But Dash didn’t seem to mind the fact that it looked like Sloth’s face — she piled it on her plate.
She handed me the leaves she’d written, so I could add them to the tree, even though we’d read them out already. “I ran out of space, so I used two – can you tape them together?” I brought them over and affixed them with the requisite amount of tape. Getting closer to see the small writing, I read, “I’m grateful that God loves me just as I am, even when I don’t deserve it. I’m thankful for the kind faces and warm food that welcomed me in this church, on my darkest night.”
Tears sprang to my eyes, and I felt grateful for Dash, as well. We have folks who have nowhere else to go at our church all the time, but what was different about this experience, what made it glow with the beauty of holiness, is that she accepted, and had a chance to tell us what it meant to her to be welcomed by us.
I said to myself, “Dash was our Jesus tonight.” I have long held to the belief that I should be kind to everyone I meet, as they could be an angel in disguise. I fail at this every single day, but in the moments that I somehow tap into it, I never cease to find Jesus there. I mean, aren’t we all just flesh and bone that flickers with the Godhead within us? Dash’s visit reminded me of when Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40).
I hesitate to blow this out of proportion, to make it anything more than it was — a warm meal and a connection with a young woman on a night in which she was lonely. I don’t know what Dash’s life will be like from here on out. But I feel that mine will be changed by meeting her.
On my way out, Dash was outside, smoking on the stoop and waiting for the AA Meeting to start (thank God/dess for AA Meetings on Thanksgiving Eve!). “Your pie was amazing. It was better than any of the others in there, the ones that looked perfect.” I was pleased that she thought so — it confirmed my suspicion that Dash and I are both people who like things a little imperfect, a little bit patchwork, yet still glowing with goodness from within.
“What is the knocking?
What is the knocking at the door in the night?
It is somebody wants to do us harm.
No, no, it is the three strange angels.
Admit them, admit them.”