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Gary's Faith Walk

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Winter Kindness

As I crested the hill and drove down the valley road, the mini-drama was already in its second act. Minutes before an elderly lady in an impossibly big and impossibly old car stopped in her lane, painfully pushed the heavy driver’s door open, and stepped out on the snow-packed pavement. The object of attention was her dog. Running loose between the chest-high berms, this old animal appeared as anxious as I judged the old woman to be. Her canine friend and companion had clearly run away, and the only way to get him back was to track him down in the car. As cars, vans, and pickups came to a halt on either side of the drama, the final act unfolded in the most beautiful way. A younger woman and her child, the first to arrive on the scene after the big car stopped and the door was pushed wide open, quickly assessed the situation. They popped out of their van and in seconds were leading the wandering old dog back to the elderly lady’s car. The back door was opened. The dog jumped in. The lady was gently helped back into her impossibly big and impossibly old car and in a few seconds everyone drove on. All in all, it was an average winter day in the not-so-average winter of 2007 and 2008 we have just passed through.

In its own way, this human story was repeated time and time again across the North Country, particularly in the most demanding months of January and February. As testament a local newspaper has been running "thank yous" for weeks. Thank you to the family who stopped to pull my car out of the snow drift. Thank you for snow blowing my sidewalk and drive. Thank for you making a needed grocery run. Thank you for helping feed my animals. Thank you for shoveling my roof so it wouldn’t collapse on us in the dark of night. And, on and on.

In my faith walk, the simplicity, the directness of Christ’s "double love commandment" holds the essence of his ministry on Earth. The gospel of Matthew tells the story:

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and the first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew: 22: 37-40)

In its own way, the harshness of this winter brought out the very best in us, our love for our neighbor. Faced with their own privations and challenges, thousands of people found ways to help someone in need. Some acts were fully planned. Some acts were completely spontaneous. Some were shared with close relatives and dear friends. And some were shared with people who will never encounter each other again.

Was it a sense of shared challenge that prompted so many acts of kindness? Was it the acute awareness that the harshness of the winter was genuinely putting neighbors in danger? Was it the concentrated focus we had on day-to-day activity that let us put aside, however briefly, the concerns of the world out there to notice the needs of those right here?

We are through it now. Patches of green grass emerge where weeks ago feet of snow were piled. The heartiest of spring blossoms push up through dirt long frozen. And the forest floor grows brown around tree wells and on south facing slopes, a little more each day.

It is my prayer that we remember the winter of 2007 and 2008. And, as in the telling of tales the snow gets deeper and the berms get higher with each retelling, may we also share the stories of acts of kindness: kindness shared and kindness received. The winter brought out the best of us as God’s children.

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Gary Payton Gary Payton is on a Faith Walk that takes him to Russia, Eastern Europe and Sandpoint, Idaho

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