Each year during Holy Week, I think of a woman named Pam. Yes, I also think of crosses, deviled eggs, peace lilies, and chocolate bunnies. I look forward to magnificent sanctuary services and family dinners. But mostly, since 2004, I think of Pam. It was that year that she redefined Easter for me.
Our daughters were best friends, so Pam and I became close, as there is an intangible bond between you and the woman whom your daughter sees as her second mother. Together Pam and I navigated second grade teachers and scout badges, dance rehearsals and birthday parties. Both moms of three girls, we discussed the sister phenomenon—how distinctive each daughter’s personality was. We tried to one-up each other in the “Wait ‘til you hear what my girl did this week” department. She worried about her daughter’s shyness, how quiet she was in school, while I worried that mine never stopped talking in class. Many times we contemplated what the teen years—so far in the distance at that time—would hold.
I knew Pam was in remission from cancer when we met. It was something she talked about openly, and there was something in her persona that said her brush with the Big C had sweetened life a bit—made life’s little joys all the more precious. I could see it in her eyes when Pam hugged her daughters and when she made my daughter laugh.
Pam also told me when the cancer came back. Life in a small town meant lots of us rallied around—helping with meals, transporting kids, steeling the saintly husband whose world was closing in. I remember a particular phone conversation with Pam. I had called her in the middle of my workday to check on her. Friends had given her a stack of movies she was watching from bed. The flick de jour was When a Man Loves a Woman.
“Romance isn’t how they show it in the movies, ya know,” she said.
I asked her what made her think of that, and she related that all her friends were commenting on Pam’s husband’s strength, his stoicism, the great romance that obviously existed between them.
“People act like he’s Andy Garcia,” she laughed. “I can tell you that the things he has to do for me—well they’re not glamorous or romantic.”
“You mean he’s not spinning you around in a tropical pool?” I asked, referring to a particularly poignant moment in the movie. “No and he’s not Andy either,” she replied, and we both laughed.
That year saw a particularly warm Easter, and I remember sweating in the long line at the Dollar Tree. I was so irritated my pulse raced. My cart was full of chocolate eggs and plastic egg trinkets and colored grass (what is the point of that anyway?), and as I inched ahead, my to-do list swam behind my eyes. My feet hurt. I didn’t know what I was wearing to church. My floors were not yet vacuumed, and I was having over 10 people for Easter dinner the next day. Several of the requisite hair bows were missing, as was one of my little girl’s patent leather Mary Janes. I craved a little bit of “me time”—a few minutes to rest, perhaps read a book—a few moments to reflect on the true meaning of Easter. Tears stung my eyes as I drove home. I was overwhelmed—as only a major holiday involving both a) dressing your kids up and b) surprising them with goodies can do. I was as displaced from the religious message of Easter as I could possibly be.
When I got home, I got the call from Pam. She and her husband were returning from MD Anderson. They’d been told there was nothing else that could be done.
The receiver pressed to my ear, I stared at the Dollar Tree bags on my kitchen counter. Suddenly I was struck with how much Pam would give to be standing in line at Dollar Tree, how she would relish trivial problems like lost bows and dust bunnies. How she would delight in normal. What I experienced—what Pam gave me on that day—was an Easter epiphany. There is nothing, can be nothing, as awe-inspiring as the simplicity of normal life.
The small vicissitudes of our daily life are answers to prayers we did not think to pray.
Several months later, our girls had been to their first Girl Scout week-long summer camp. By that time very feeble, Pam still wanted to pick up her daughter—to engage in that milestone moment when you hug your sunburnt child and catch a whiff of her ripe backpack: that moment when you whisper into her hair, “Oh I missed you” and feel her little girl body dissolve into yours. Pam’s husband and I had arranged that I would wait in line, sign our daughters out, collect the girls and their bags, and, once they were outside, Pam would be able to make the short walk to hug her daughter. Watching that reunion, I knew then the futility of our speculative talks of future adolescence: Pam would never see her daughters grow up.
Because of Pam, it has been my Easter tradition to visit Dollar Tree, linger in the aisles, watch the frazzled moms, and say a little prayer of gratitude to the dear friend who resurrected my Easter soul, who humbled me by making me appreciate “normal,” who made me see the hallelujahs in the often messy, sometimes dull, frequently confusing tides of life. This Easter there are no Dollar Tree shopping trips, no trumpets or choir singing Handel’s Messiah. But perhaps even more so than usual—perhaps because I’m missing normal—I hear the Easter message of hope and resurrection loud and clear. Life is good because our world is graced with Pams who pull away the stone and shine light into the barren caves of our souls. And because of her I won’t let myself forget.