A Tablecloth of Truth
He was a young pastor reopening a dilapidated church in Brooklyn just before Christmas. It was December 18 and he had worked hard plastering walls, painting, and repairing pews. He wanted everything ready for that most important Christmas Eve service, their first as a church.
On December 19, a driving rainstorm hit New York City for two solid days. On December 21, when the young pastor returned to the church, his heart sank. The roof had leaked, causing a large area of plaster to fall off the wall just behind and above the pulpit. He cleaned up the mess and considered canceling the Christmas Eve service.
As he walked home, he stopped at a local store selling used goods. There, he found a beautiful, handmade, ivory colored crocheted tablecloth. It was exquisite work with fine colors and a cross embroidered in the center. It was perfect; just the right size to cover the wall behind the pulpit where the plaster had come off. He bought it and headed back to the church.
It started to snow as he walked. He noticed an older woman running to catch the bus. But, she missed it. He invited her to wait in the warm church for the next bus.
She sat in the back pew. At the front of the church, the pastor unfolded the tablecloth and hung it on the wall as a tapestry above the pulpit. He turned to look for the old woman, and saw her walking down the center aisle, her eyes fixed on the tablecloth. “Pastor,” she asked, “where did you get that tablecloth?” He explained. She asked him to check the lower right corner to see if the initials “EBG” were crocheted into it. They were. These were her initials; for she had made this tablecloth 35 years before in Austria.
She told him before the war she and her husband were well-to-do in Austria. But, when the Nazis came, she was forced to leave for safety. Her husband planned to leave the next week but he was captured, sent to prison, and she never heard of or saw him again.
The pastor offered her the tablecloth but she refused. She did accept his offer, though, to take her home on the other side of Staten Island. She was only in Brooklyn for the day to work at her housecleaning job.
The Christmas Eve service was a success. The young pastor greeted people as they left while an older man sat still in a pew at the front, staring toward the pulpit. The pastor quietly approached him, and sat down.
The man turned to the pastor and asked, “Where did you get that wall tapestry?” The pastor explained. And, the old man said, “It’s identical to a tablecloth my wife made years ago when we lived in Austria before the war.” He told the pastor how the Nazis came, how he forced his wife to flee for her safety, how he was arrested and imprisoned. He never saw his wife or his home again.
The young pastor asked if he could take him for a little ride. They drove to Staten Island, to the same home where the pastor delivered the woman days earlier. He helped the old man climb the three flights of stairs to the woman’s apartment, and knocked on the door. There, he saw the greatest Christmas reunion anyone can imagine.
Call me a romantic, but when I read this story to my wife, my voice broke with emotion. The story is true according to Pastor Rob Reid (whoever he is). I honestly don’t know if it’s true or not. But, regardless, the story clearly touches my soul – even if it’s a fable. And I ask myself, “Why?”
It connects so intensely because within each of us, deep in our souls, is this need to love and be loved.
Love is at the very core of who we are. Love is what gives us meaning and purpose. Love is the answer to why I’m here. Love lasts; nothing else does. We can lose our power, our position and our possessions. We can lose a spouse as this couple lost one another. We can lose a child, a parent or a friend – I’ve lost them all. But, my love for them remains. Love lives on.
The other day I listened to an interview with 30-year old Groupon CEO Andrew Mason. His company has catapulted to success. Google reportedly offered $6 billion to buy it. Mason is full of idealism. His Internet company’s daily single offer of a discount coupon to use at a small, local business expresses his idealistic vision to get people outside to enjoy what’s around them. “I’m out to build a better world,” he says.
The idealism and innocence of youth. Is it? Or is he more in touch with the essence of life than the jilted and jaded among us? I reflect and wonder,Has heartache and hurt in my journey through life forever scarred my soul? Can I find once again a healed heart overflowing, filled with feeling and faith?
This tablecloth speaks truth to me – truth about the importance of love. It tells me love needs to permeate all of my life; not just my personal life, but my professional life as well. I want to live a holistic life, not a partitioned one. I need to daily remind myself of why I do what I do. Why I get up each morning. Why I do my work.
I, too, want to build a better world where love abounds. I want to help my clients, colleagues and company discover success. Throughout my day, in all my work and all my interactions, I want to give love and be loved.
As we reflect and look forward to 2011, let’s build a better world together. Let’s love one another. What say you?