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Rev. Maryalice Sullivan: The man with the fancy clothes

We have just finished the Christmas season, a season among other things that is a season of gift giving. As we know gifts come in all shapes and sizes and some of the very best gifts are those that can not be wrapped, they are gifts of love and grace. They are simple moments of meeting God and glimpsing the holy and this was indeed the gift of the “man with the fancy clothes”.

This gift was given long after John’s, Aunt Kathleen, better known to all of us who loved her as Auntie Kay, had lost her words and her ability to connect with us, her family through Alzheimers or dementia. She had been a wonderful storyteller and her stories live on in the family. Stories such as the morning she and one of her friends spent their time playing with a litter of newborn kittens. How she went home for lunch and told her mother about this soft and beautiful bunch of tiny kittens and could they please keep one of these, please. She convinced her mom to come and see their incredible find and when her mom looked at the kittens she quickly dragged Kathleen and her friend from the shed. It was not a litter of kittens, it was a litter of baby skunks. Thankfully their mom had been out hunting in the morning.

Then there was the story of how when she was six years old and on her way home for lunch on a what seemed to be a normal school day. She was convinced to go with a group of Gypsies. For Kathleen this was an adventure, she was quite enjoying the freedom from school and her new found friends. On the other hand her parents were wrought with fear and worried when their little girl did not appear for lunch. Her father was quickly on her trail and recovered his daughter at the Gypsy camp that had been set up at the edge of town.

There were stories after stories about her favorite dog, a large Saint Bernard. We are fortunate enough to have a painting of this dog and he was beautiful and according to Auntie Kay very smart. It was the dog’s job to deliver fresh eggs to the nearby Brattleboro hospital every morning. She said she would often help gather the eggs. The eggs would then be put into a special carrying devise that her father had made. The devise was put around the dog’s neck and off he would go with the eggs delivering them to the door of the hospital kitchen. According to Auntie Kay he never broke even one egg, but that might have been stretching the truth just a bit.

For years she had regaled us with stories, but now she was living in a nursing facility and hardly recognized us when we visited. I knew that the Bishop of Connecticut was scheduled to visit several nursing homes in Manchester, Connecticut on the Sunday he was visiting the parish in that town. I made sure her name was on the list of people who wanted a visit, but I was unsure she would even know that he was there. God had a wonderful surprise in store for us that afternoon when we visited with her. Her eyes were bright and she had some words, not many, but they were pure joy for us to hear. We heard her say over and over, that “the man with the fancy clothes” had come and had blessed her as she made an awkward sign of the cross. Just for that bit of time we glimpsed the woman that she had been, it may have been a small gesture on the part of the bishop, but an enormous gift to Auntie Kay and to us her family. Gifts and moments of grace are treasures of the greatest value. Thank you for the generosity of the man with the fancy clothes and most of all for moments of grace.




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