Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Tammy's redemption

The other day, I was saying prayers for the departed, and Tammy popped into my mind. I hadn't thought about Tammy for a long, long time.

I first met Tammy at the food outreach we used to have when I lived out in the country. We started out hauling USDA surplus commodities up to the mountains and handing them out. Just about anybody can do this through the FEMA program; just contact your local food bank. With some volunteers, we would sort and bag the commodities and give them to folks in the mountains, lots of senior citizens living on social security, people on disability, pregnant teenagers living in trailers, people who weren't making it in the city. At first people would just come and take their two or three bags of groceries, say thanks, and leave. Then a soup kitchen in the city offered to make us a free meal to serve with the food. And a local bakery started giving us fresh-baked bread. My wife arranged to get us some organic produce donated through the local CSA. After that, people came and stayed awhile, and talked, and told us their stories.

Tammy was already quite bad off when we met her. She was using a walker, hobbling along very slowly, gasping for breath just from the short walk across the parking lot, looking pale and slightly sallow. She was only about fifty, but she looked twenty years older. Most of her teeth were gone. Life looked like it had been real hard on Tammy.

As we got to know her, she started to tell us her story. About life with her first husband, who used to beat her up pretty bad. And about the alcohol. How she and her husband would drive to a bar and leave the kids asleep in the van while they stayed up drinking until the wee hours of the morning, then drove home drunk. How her oldest son had disowned her after a childhood of alcoholism and neglect.

Now she had a new husband, who didn't beat her, and she had stopped drinking. Together they had a son who was only about eight. But Tammy's health was deteriorating. She had diabetes, and cirrhosis of the liver, and hepatitis, and other health problems. Tammy was not long for the world, and she looked it.

One day, out of the clear blue, she asked if she could come to church with us. We hadn't made a big deal about God or church at the food distribution, figuring it was better, as St. Francis once said, to "preach the Gospel, and if absolutely necessary, use words." A few people asked us now and again about our church, and some even said they would come, but no one ever did.

Not until Tammy.

She came to Church that Sunday, and it was hard to see her. She had put on her very best dress, and garish makeup. To be honest with you, she looked just awful. And yet there was something touching and deeply vulnerable about her as well, so serious in her dress-up clothes, like a child intent on acting out her part in a grown-up ceremony, like a flower girl in a wedding dropping every petal with care. She took a Liturgy book and tried to follow, watching other people to see when to stand up and sit down. She was trying so hard to get this right.

At the end of the Liturgy, we gave her some of the blessed bread, and anointed her with oil from one of the oil lamps. We invited her to come have breakfast with us.

On Thursday of that week, I was traveling in Mexico after visiting St. Innocent Orphanage, a ministry of Project Mexico. I hadn't had cell phone reception for days, but we passed near the border at one point, and the phone beeped that I had a message. Tammy was in the hospital.

By the end of that day, she was dead.

A few days ago, I wrote a post about redemption, in which I said, "the search for redemption is an ache, a yearning for a pathway out of a world in which it seems there are no good choices." I think this is what Tammy came to church seeking that day: redemption. Redemption and reconciliation. After a life that had seen more than its share of bad choices, she was determined to get this one thing right. I think she knew it was her last chance.

I thought about Tammy for a minute, and said a prayer for her. A prayer that she had found what she was looking for.

1 comment:

Mimi said...

May her Memory be Eternal!