History Made Me Cry

History made me cry today.

I wasn’t listening to a lecture about some long ago people or places. I do that a lot, but that wasn’t it.

I wasn’t visiting some historic site, looking at some beautiful architecture made long ago. I do that sometimes, but that wasn’t it.

I was in church, but it wasn’t the sermon. It wasn’t in the bulletin, the bible, or the Book of Common Prayer. It wasn’t the timeless chant of the Great Litany, either.

It was the simple act of helping an elderly parishioner walk up to the communion circle. As I’ve done on other Sundays recently, I gave her my arm. Making myself as sturdy as possible, I provided support so that she could join us around the altar, as she has for many years — years longer than I’ve been here. When we were both safe back in our seats, my eyes welled with tears.

Why? Well, you’d have to know about Elsworth, a former regular of our tiny 8 o’clock service. Elsworth was already an old-timer when I started coming to this church. Story has it that he was responsible for the mellow green color of the old church building. He’d gotten tired of waiting for some church committee to make a decision, and had taken matters into his own hands. That story was before my time. For me, Elsworth was the tall, strong, elderly man with a quiet sense of humor, who sat in the pew behind me, right by the window. Elsworth was the man who offered his arm to the ladies, old and young alike, helping them up and down the steps for communion.

And what does this have to do with history? This Sunday, I realized that the assistance I had just given was the example that Elsworth had provided for me. I cried to realize my place in history, just one tiny link in a chain mesh of good works, passed from one person to the next. Not just from parents and grandparents, but from many good people. People I remember, like Elsworth. And people I’ll never know, who influenced the friends and family who show me how I can be a better person.

Crying about history. Not a bad way to begin the season of humility we call Lent.

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