Friday, December 25, 2009
I had seen her only once before—the day when she came into the center to pick up birthday boxes for her two grandchildren and to ask if we could help the family for Christmas. That day I learned a bit about her. The boys’ mother, Krystyna’s daughter, died this year from a brain tumor. Krystyna, a woman near my age, was faced with raising the two young children and their older sister. With a thick Polish accent, she wondered aloud why some in her apartment building always seemed to get the help they needed but not her. “It’s not fair,” she said.
“We can put your name on our waiting list for Christmas help,” I told her, adding, “if we can help, we will call you.” I really wanted to help her. Every time I start identifying like this, I find I am pulled deeper into lives than is wise. By that, I mean I am haunted by a life that is not mine but that I imagine very well could be. That’s primarily the reason I left a social services job at the county a few years ago.
Since that time,I have learned to keep an open heart without becoming too involved. Krystyna was my test. Maybe, it was the grandmother thing. I don’t know.
So, as the time neared to start contacting the waiting list families, I was happy that our donors had been generous and we had plenty of toys and gifts left to give the waiting list families.
Krystyna showed up the first day. I saw her sitting off to the side. “Krystyna,” I called out to her, “is someone helping you?” “They say my name isn’t on the list,” she said. “Let me check,” I replied. As I flipped through the pages of names, I spotted hers. “There it is,” I said. “It’s okay,” I said, “I know Krystyna.”
When she had big bags of gifts at her feet, we hugged. Krystyna told me how the children had been baptized recently. “The priest found godparents for them,” adding with obvious pride, “a deacon!” I know little about their lives. I know she struggles. I know I would do the same if I were in her place. She and I share that—maybe little else—the grandmother thing. Life’s lessons always come at a price. And while I think of Krystyna’s struggles, I know it is best to focus on my own, knowing I can still keep my heart open for the time when the next “Krystyna” comes along.