Remembering Lucy, who chose to serve others on Thanksgiving day, even when she had so little to give.
It is the season of thanks, the golden week when family members, scattered across the country, take the sacred journey home to be together, to feast together, to spend few precious hours in the company of those they love and have missed.
This is a season of belonging.
Many years ago, I was not able to make it home for Thanksgiving. My parents were crushed that I’d miss Thanksgiving dinner at home, but I had the opportunity to be of service to homeless folks at soup kitchen in Trenton, NJ.
I had some notions on what the day would entail, but I was not really prepared for the experience that was to come. I had an idea that it might be a sad day for those without families and who had such dire needs.
To this day, I can recall the long metal tables, each set with plain white paper plates, plastic utensils, Styrofoam cups. I can still see the people who came, many with all they owned, wearing multiple layers of clothes and carrying their overstuffed bags that held their few possessions.
Most sat quietly and kept to themselves, content to be receiving a hot meal on such a frigid day. Some chatted with a neighbor or the staff. And then there was Lucy, whom I will never forget.
Lucy asked to help. She wanted to serve others. She too was homeless and in need of a hot meal, but she insisted that she would help serve. I remember her smile, her warmth, her sweet manner.
She brought dishes from the kitchen filled with turkey, stuffing and vegetables to the folks piling into the building. She poured coffee into the Styrofoam cups. She wiped down the tables so the next group could sit and eat. All the while smiling, chatting and humbly serving others.
More than anything, Lucy became a lightning rod for those gathered there. Her cheerful attitude was contagious—to all of us.
Everyone in the community seemed to know Lucy. She was not a stranger to the others who came that day, and I wanted to know more about her.
Eventually, we convinced her to sit and eat her own meal. She had already given so much of her time and energy, we knew she must be hungry.
As she ate her Thanksgiving meal, I learned her family was gone and she was alone. No children. No husband. She had worked and had a job before, but I didn’t ask about the circumstances that led to homelessness.
I did ask her why she felt the need to be of service this day. We had come to serve her; what motivated her to help?
And this I remember with such clarity. She said to me, “I have to give. I need to give. When I lost my job and my home, and everything else, I felt I had nothing to offer anymore. In my job, I was able to work with others and help them. In my home, I could invite someone to share a cup of coffee or a piece of pound cake. But when you’re homeless, no one expects anything of you. I don’t belong to anyone. So here, I was able to do something. I’m just so grateful for this day, and so I had to give.”
She spoke so quietly that I hadn’t realized others nearby were also listening. The people sitting at the next table had finished their meals, and one by one started to clear the tables, wiping off the crumbs, bringing plates of food to the folks coming in. Those we were serving became servants. Lucy’s attitude was contagious.
The other volunteers and I watched as one after the other, our homeless guests began to serve one another. They were giving what they could, and with grateful hearts. Lucy had sparked her own quiet revolution of gratitude.
God surely loved Lucy, that cheerful giver.