On the worst day of my life, Mary showed up to save the day with nothing more than a smile and a cough drop. My grandmother had died the day before, and I spent the night alternately sleeping and crying. When dawn finally came, I woke fully with a cough and that sick feeling you get when you realize it wasn’t just a bad dream. I could hear my grandfather sobbing in the next room. I cried more. And I coughed more. I could hear footsteps approaching my bedroom and expected it to be my mom. Instead, it was Mary, with her Mary smile and a cough drop. She unwrapped the cough drop and put it in my mouth, as any good mom would do. She said, “Good morning!” and I believed her.
Mary had visited our home many times, but never had she been there before eight o’clock in the morning and never in a church dress. Even as a teenager, I understood that this was something much more than a friendly visit. Mary had arrived early and dressed to do the Lord’s work. She was, in the most literal way I have ever seen, the hands and feet of Christ.
Mary and Pam and my mom and I all met in Mrs. Ward’s first grade classroom. I can’t even remember who became friends first, the moms, or us, the little girls, but I remember almost everything else. The moms baked cookies for our class parties, took our Girl Scout troop to camp, and kept each other company in their cars, parked by the curb, waiting for school to dismiss. They took us to wrap houses when we were too young to drive, and they drove us across Houston to junior high football games so we could cheer for our mighty Leopards. They made countless youth choir sandwiches on Sunday nights and washed cars with us in the church parking lot to raise money for missions. And they laughed. About everything. In spite of everything. Sometimes, about nothing at all.
It was Mary and Pam, in fact, who invited me to the afore mentioned church. It was there that I met my first boyfriend and another boy who I would later marry. It was the church where I was baptized and where I learned that church was more than Sunday School shoes and a dime for the offering plate. I also learned what it meant to be an integral part of something bigger than myself, and that young people really could make a difference.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” I believe that’s true, and I believe I am blessed beyond measure to have had Mary in my village. Today, there is a little less laughter in the village, a little less joy, a little less compassion. What remains, however, is the memory of a life well lived, a role model surpassed by none, and a smile and a cough drop signaling that I would be okay. And I will be again. Even without a cough drop this time.