The third Thursday of every month a group of roughly three dozen senior citizens gets together to share a meal. We clear a space on the right side of the sanctuary and set up tables to accommodate the crowd. The white-haired women decorate the tables with sparkling garland, seasonal candies, and cellophane centerpieces. The buffet table is laden with fried chicken, hot dishes and a wide array of jello salads and desserts, most of which incorporate whipped cream, marshmallow fluff, or both. They call themselves the Silver Saints, and each month they gather to share food and discuss their families, musings, and memories. Their meals usually have a theme and often times they bring in a guest speaker (who usually has nothing to do with the theme of the meal). This past month they celebrated St. Patrick's Day and heard from a local fire fighter, who taught them about fire prevention.
Meanwhile, just down the hall is a group of roughly three dozen 3-4 year-olds who get together to share snacks, learn their numbers and letters, and create a wide array of crafts. We call them the Small Saints. They meet at various times during the week, some in the morning and some in the afternoon. Their monthly activities, snacks, and crafts usually have a theme, and often times they bring in a guest speaker (who usually has nothing to do with the monthly theme). This past month they celebrated Dr. Seuss by making green eggs and ham, pasting candles onto a paper birthday cakes and creating "cat-in-the-hat" snacks (a marshmallow stuck to a vanilla wafer and striped with strips of fruit roll up – it was delicious). They also participated in St. Patrick’s Day with a leprechaun search and the cutting of shamrocks. Their most recent visitor was a mail carrier who taught them about the way that the mail gets to your house.
I am continually amused by the similarities between these two polarized portions of the congregation. They both refer to me as “Miss Amanda.” Both move slowly and require special attention in the hallways. Both like to sport brightly colored clothing that reflects a newfound “sense of self” (and of style). Both enjoy naptime. Both take pleasure in simple things. Both offer uncalculated physical affection. And both offer me a perspective on life that I would otherwise miss completely.
Sometimes the two groups interact, and at such times I am content to sit, to watch and to wonder at what they all must be thinking. The Small Saints sang Christmas carols for the Silver Saints prior to their December luncheon, an event I made sure to mark on my calendar. It was short, simple, and imperfect – 30-odd preschoolers on the carpeted steps of the sanctuary, eyes everywhere but on their teachers – but something about it was also beautiful. The Silver Saints watched with hope and contentment. During lunch they discussed their children and grandchildren, whether or not they would travel over the holidays, and who would be fortunate enough to receive visitors and do the holiday baking.
All of this, I confess, struck me. As a 20-something single person still unsure of what I want to do with my life, I spend most of my time thinking about myself, and if not of myself then of other people my age. I give little thought to preschoolers and even less to senior citizens. I don’t consider that my actions, my decisions, my life might actually have an effect on theirs. When I go home for holidays I still think about me – How much work do I want to miss? When do I want to get back to my friends? Who can I visit while staying with my parents? I am quick to forget that a relational job requires considering both sides of the relationship.
Stuck in the middle of preschool and post-retirement, I find I have a lot to learn.