During the holiday season, the cancer support center where I work sets up a Christmas tree at a local Mall, and in the days leading up to Christmas, people fill the tree with ornaments bearing the names of loved ones who have died.
Each Saturday afternoon, volunteers staff a table by the tree.
The first Saturday, while a volunteer and I were setting up the table, a woman stopped to look at our colors of cancer poster.
“Do you know about The Lake House cancer support center?” I asked.
No, she had never heard of it.
I gave her the short version of what we do and asked, “Have you been touched by cancer?”
Tears welled up in her eyes. “Yes,” she said, “My mother died from pancreatic cancer last year.”
She then picked a purple ribbon and wrote her mother’s name on it. Her daughter took pictures as the woman hung the ornament on the tree. I invited her to our weekly bereavement group, and she said, “I need it.” We hugged, and she went on her way.
“Even if no one else stops today,” I said to our volunteer, “this has already been worthwhile.”
One person, given the opportunity to acknowledge her loss and voice her grief. One kind word. One hug. One person consoled.
Of course, she was not the only person to stop, to remember a loved one, shed a few tears, hang an ornament, accept a hug—and then move on. There were others throughout the afternoon.
The next Saturday, one of the volunteers who staffed the table told me about the first person who stopped that day and shared her cancer story. Like me, this volunteer felt the power of this opportunity to offer a kind word and a hug. “I knew then that I was meant to be there,” she said.
Life is made up of encounters like these—opportunities to listen to another’s pain, to honor it and to offer hope. Small things, really, but small things that can made a big difference.
Mother Teresa said, Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.
I believe that every encouraging small thing makes a difference, even if it is just for that one person.
Advent brings our attention to small things—Mary’s visit to Elizabeth in the hill country of Judah, Joseph and Mary traveling to Bethlehem and staying in a stable. They had no power or fame and lived simple lives; yet their lives had far-reaching consequences.
Sometimes, I can feel like I am not making much of a difference, and then I meet someone who is suffering, someone who just needs to be heard. That is something I can do. And that small act can make a big difference to that one person.
Every act of kindness, every word of encouragement and every moment of hope brings light into darkness—and bringing light to darkness is the message and invitation of Advent.