For We Shall See Him as He Is

This is a picture of me with my firstborn son. It was on the desk of a woman who loved us, who died this week. She was not a relative, or a confidante. We did not speak the same language–her English was better than my (non-existent) Spanish, but I doubt either of us ever understood much more than a paragraph or two that the other spoke. I know nothing of her inner life, or even of most of the external circumstances of her life, either before or after the years that we saw each other weekly. She didn’t know my politics or my favorite color, and all I knew about her at first was that she was a kindly lady in Relief Society and wanted to earn some money cleaning houses.


I had never had anyone clean my house, and I was embarrassed at how desperately I needed help. I had a healthy but difficult baby who didn’t sleep much, and was just learning what an utterly incompetent housekeeper I am. She came, maybe once a week, maybe more often; I was too tired to remember. The dust bunnies disappeared, as did the sticky spots on the floor. Bookshelves were straightened and mounds of laundry turned into tidy, sweet-smelling stacks. Soon she started to clean the refrigerator, which somehow always meant turning little scraps of leftovers into delicious soup. I suspect, though I was never able to prove for certain, that she started bringing a few things from her own house for the soup. That, or sorcery. She worked miracles with rice that I believe the good Lord would envy.

Every week when we got to church, she met us at the door and scooped my baby out of my arms. Occasionally, he would get hungry and she’d bring him to me, but mostly he enjoyed being cooed at in Spanish for three hours, and I occasionally enjoyed a nap in a quiet classroom. One of my baby’s first words was “Dia,” his approximation of “Sister Diaz.”

I was grateful, awkwardly. I gladly paid her for her work, and I tried to be generous. But I worried about where the lines were between work and love–I knew that she was giving me more than I was giving her, and that she was not counting the cost and didn’t want me to, either. So we went on like that–she helped me, graciously, and I appreciated it, awkwardly. And then I moved away, and it was hard to keep in touch, because we didn’t have words for each other, because my life turned out to be as much of a mess as my house had been–definitely not Christmas-card worthy, nothing to write home about, as they say.


A few months ago, knowing, I think, that she was ill and might not have a long time left, she sent me a message on Facebook, with this image, which she had kept on her desk for all of my prodigal years. (It was a lot of years–that baby is almost 25). After that, we exchanged messages a few times–hers were all in Spanish, mostly with extraordinarily cheesy memes and lots of hearts. Only now I understood. Well-scrubbed Christmas cards wouldn’t have changed her feeling for me any more than my endlessly messy house had. She had seen me with eyes of love, always, seen me steadily and held my image in her heart, not because I am special, but because I needed her.

I am ashamed still, to tell this story. It could be read as condescending. There are layers of class and race all over it–a film of greasy dust as ugly as what’s on the top of the fridge if you forget to clean it for a year. It could seem like a sappy bid for absolution for not having been a good friend, a hopeful penance for not staying in touch. A sentimental eulogy that doesn’t begin to cover the most important parts of her life. All of that is true. But the truest story, I think, is just this:

She saw (before I did) that we needed each other, and was willing to be devoted to me and my child in ways none of us quite understood. It is precisely in such need and such devotion that we learn that Jesus did not come to offer us metaphors. When he said “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst,” he meant that his disciples should actually feed each other. There are metaphors there, but first there is bread. Rice. Soup. Perhaps “come unto me, ye that are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” is best translated “hand over the baby and take a nap.”

When Jesus recognized his mother’s earnest care for the wedding guests she was serving, made that care the occasion of his first miracle, he was teaching us that tending to the comfort and simple joys of others is not only “women’s work,” but God’s. When he noticed the work of the woman who swept the whole house looking for what was lost, and compelled us to see her, he was teaching us that the women who sweep are the queens of heaven. When Jesus asked the Samaritan woman at the well for water, he was teaching us that the first act of discipleship is to care for the bodies of the holy creatures around us.

Rest in peace and light, Sister Diaz. Thank you for teaching me what it means for the hungry to be filled with good things.

Comments

  1. Oh my, Kristine. Thank you.

  2. So beautiful. Thank you for your personal scripture for us to be uplifted. I loved reading this as I gaze out my window this dreary Willamette Valley day.

  3. Beautiful and profound. Not everyone is blessed with a Sister Diaz, but some of us, some of the time, are touched by one–or discover, to our surprise, to having been one, long ago, in ways we barely even remember. Thank you for sharing, Kristine. Grace humbles us all.

  4. Thank you for affirming my housekeeping, done sloppily in ADHD fashion, with a lot of latent shame, and only ever done well when there’s someone else helping. And for affirming my invisible “work” of caring for the people around me. I’ve only ever been a housewife and volunteer, except for a badly derailed career earlier in my life. I enrolled in Medicare recently and went through a grueling ordeal to have the necessary status with the SSA, because I lacked enough work credits. That was a painful reminder, and I’ll take this as the antidote, as well as encouragement to value my work better, caring for the needs of the holy creatures around me.

    And thanks for illuminating the gifts I’ve received from those who help me. .

  5. Wow. What a beautiful way to center Sis. Diaz beside Christ in this story.

    This makes me reflect on how uncomfortable it can be to love others in the way that we love Christ — centering Them and Their gift, knowing we don’t deserve it — especially when they occupy the socially disadvantaged place Christ would occupy in our modern world. Their choice to give of themselves costs them more because society has allotted them so little and, however well-intentioned, in some ways we’re complicit in their suffering.

    I guess, in both cases, the best we can do is love them back and try to pay it forward, even though our love can never justify theirs.

  6. This is really profound. Thank you so much.

  7. Natalie B. says:

    Thank you, Kristine.

  8. Mark Brown says:

    Excellent. Thank you.

  9. Hope E Wiltfong says:

    That was incredibly lovely, It is simply wonderful when people like this show up in our lives. Thank you for sharing.

  10. I find it interesting you feel the need to semi-apologize that your post might be taken somehow as if your superior socioeconomic status would be offensive to those who served you. I have worked both as a housekeeper/nanny and in business management positions. I felt sorry for the people I served and particularly for their children. I never saw them as my superiors in any way. They allowed me to pay my rent. But their sheer incompetence in ordinary life appalled every one who worked for them. As the housekeeper expressed it, Mr. So and so, whose name places him at the very top of his field and whom you would recognize, is not very smart. He kept marrying and divorcing seriously mentally ill women, just because he thought they would impress the men in his field because the women were much younger and pretty. They were arm candy because he believed they would make him seem desirable. His last wife with her enormous fake breasts made him look ridiculous. But wife number two threatened to kill their young son so she had to go. Wife number three showed up at the house the next weekend and was married as soon as the divorce was final. She manipulated the transfer of $1 million within a year of their marriage. She lasted about seven years until she tried to have his boss arrested. She refused treatment for her bipolar. No matter how much damage she did to the children, he did not stop it.
    Most of us stayed because the pay was good and because we were trying to protect the children from the sheer craziness taking place in the home. I find it amazing that anyone who has people serving them believes these people see themselves as inferior in any way. They see their bosses as inferior. Unable to raise their children. Unable to keep their house clean. Unable to pay their own bills or schedule their own repairmen. Valuing their advancement at work over the welfare of their family. Considering their access to frequent hot sex the paramount purpose of marriage. Needing nannies for their children even on what is supposedly a family vacation because they do not know how to spend even a week with their children. Or for that matter, even a weekend without relief from the strain of spending time with their children. A racial or economic divide making the employer superior? Not a chance. The Nicaraguan nanny. Her oldest daughter graduated from Berkeley law school and the youngest is now a therapist. The children of the privileged wealthy white couple will probably need to visit that therapist for years once they realize normal families actually love their children and don’t marry snd divorce over and over again. And they do not tell their teenage children that it is reasonable to assume you will be divorced multiple times in their life. And who expects to stay in contact with all the half-siblings from all the marriages? Obviously this is not something that can be expected. Neither is seeing a parent more than once a decade something expected.
    I realize the author is not like the family I worked for. But please reexamine your assumptions. The staff is not looking at you the way you think. Neither are the people who wait on you in the stores or who repair your cars or do your yard work. All they can think is how did you get so old without developing any useful skills. Why did you not train your children to help around the house or yard? Certainly you cannot believe holding a white collar job is something people admire or that the square footage of your house or the make and model of your car cause people to admire you.

  11. Thank you, Kristine. This is so beautifully said.

  12. Wendy, reexamining assumptions is a good project for all of us. Thanks for the reminder.

  13. Lovely and a good reminder to cherish those who minister to us in the most mundane ways. These little things make the kingdom .

  14. I’m speechless. Thank you for sharing.

  15. Holly Miller says:

    Thank you, Kristine.

  16. J. Stapley says:

    Achingly beautiful. Peace be with you and the Diaz family. And thank you.

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