“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.”-Luke 16:10
The cancer was killing her. The doctors said that it was just a question of days. I was the designated son to spend the night at her bedside. As the painkillers wore off, she opened her eyes and looked at me intently. Then she asked if I remembered the days when she would wait with me at the school bus stop. She smiled before I could give her an answer and then went back to sleep. She passed away a few days later. This was almost twenty five years ago. Her last thoughts were on what we would consider the most mundane things of being a mother. She waited with me for the school bus everyday when I was a little lad. I am not sure if she ever thought then that this would be one of her final memories before her passing.
I was taught in seminary that we should do the small things first in parish life. The small things were visiting the members in their homes, hospital visitation, funerals and weddings. If we would do these things, then we are paying the “rent” to our respective church. Then we could be free to do greater things. We divide our lives between mundane things and great achievements. This is not something peculiar in religious circles. It is the way the world functions. It is not enough to be just a mother. We have to show to the world that our children are future Einsteins. It is not enough to just play the guitar, we have to strive to be the best. It seems like nothing has value in itself unless it is aiming for a higher goal. If we are great, then we are successful. This may not be bad but it is not necessarily good either. In our obsession for the so-called great things of life, we might overlook things that really matter. These are things that we remember and cherish when everything is said and done.
It had been a while since we saw Isabela. We met her in the streets about a year ago. She was unusually reserved for a homeless teen. Most of the teens and children are usually open to any adult attention but not Isabela. She stood and watched us from afar for a week or so before approaching us. The first thing she asked for was a blank piece of paper. She wanted to draw. She sat next to us and drew quietly. She never said a word to us but she wanted to be near us. The next day she shared a little bit more about herself. Her story is not different from the other teenage girls. She was placed in a state orphanage where she spent most of her teenage years. She ran away to the streets before she turned eighteen because they were going to send her back to her home. Isabela is a very private and she did not elaborate on the circumstances that placed her in the orphanage. We are realizing that it is not necessary for us to know everything about their past. There is nothing we can do to change it. God has placed this young girl in our lives in the here and now. We don’t need to probe into her past to know her. We can spend time with her and allow her to share whatever she wants. We saw Isabela almost everyday for a week or so and then she decided to move to another area. It was outside the area where we worked.
The children are nomadic, moving around several areas in the city before returning to the center where we work. Occasionally we venture out to these areas to look for them. By chance, we saw Isabela again after about six months. We went for a walk and we ran into her. She was genuinely happy to see us and gave us a hug. Then among the wide array of subjects she spoke about, she mentioned something curious. She asked Mary if she remembered doing her nails for her. This was one of her fondest memories of our short time together. I had bought her a nice book and we did other things with her but she remembers something as mundane as painting her nails with Mary. I am not offended that she did not remember the book which took us a while to find. I thought that it was a big thing. I even wrote about it in one of my blog posts last year. However, her fondest memory was doing nails with Mary. She does not remember the book. It was one time event. Mary did her nails frequently. She did it because she wanted something to do with the girls. Sometimes things we think of as mundane are the very things that have an eternal impact in our lives. Perhaps the eternal shines through mundane things and not in great and grandiose events.
I would never write anything about playing a game of checkers with the children. It would seem boring. Nothing usually happens in these games. I have also overlooked the fact that everyday when I see the children in the streets, the first thing they want to know is if I had brought checkers with me. They lose all the time and they know when I let them win and they get upset. For them, it is not a question of winning or losing. They want to play checkers with me. They want Mary to do their nails. Even the boys ask her to file their nails. Everyday they want us to do the most mundane things with them. We do these in hopes of achieving something greater. Perhaps, we are missing out on the great things by overlooking these so-called mundane activities.
Before we left Isabela that day, she reminded us of her birthday. I wrote it down so that I wouldn’t forget it. We thought about getting a her small cake, but decided to get a small kit of manicure products. On the day itself, Isabela was happy to see us. She received the gift happily but she said that she did not really want us to give her anything. She just wanted to see us on her birthday. She wanted to be remembered. She asked if we brought some paper. We sat down and drew together for two hours. This is how she wanted to spend her birthday; doing something simple but at the same time doing it with people she knows who care for her. This is why mundane things are important.
We want to achieve great things for our ego but we do mundane things because of love.