Bill was an usher at our church. Of course, he was much more than that: husband, father, grandfather, business owner, friend. But what I remember most about Bill is that he was an usher at our church.
If that seems too small of a way to characterize a man’s life, I’ll bring it down even more, to one encounter between Bill and me on a Sunday morning.
I was in the habit of arriving at church at the last possible moment and then leaving as fast as I could—usually during the closing prayer when everyone’s eyes were (supposed to be) closed. My grief was still new and I wasn't yet comfortable sitting alone in church. Plus, I desperately wanted to avoid the “How are you?” and “What can I do for you?” conversations that were sure to come in the lobby or the parking lot—mostly because I didn’t know how to answer.
The service was nearly over. The sermon had been preached, the announcements had been made, and now it was time to collect the offering. If the typical order of things was observed, this would be followed by the benediction, which was the optimal moment for me to make my aforementioned escape.
So, I’m sitting there waiting for Bill to make his way to my row and hand me the offering plate so I could then pass it along to the person sitting next to me. But Bill broke the usher's code. While handing me the plate, he stopped and put his hand on my shoulder. He left it there even after I passed the plate, so I looked up at him. When we locked eyes, he gave me a slight nod, then slipped his hand away and moved on.
That was it. A few seconds of silent comfort passed from friend to friend. A caring look. A gentle hand on the shoulder. One simple act of compassion on one typical Sunday morning . . . and I still feel it twenty-two years later.
Without saying a single word, Bill told me that he saw me, that he knew my heart was hurting, and that he cared.
Comfort doesn’t always need a grand or eloquent delivery. Sometimes a hand on the shoulder is all it takes.
© 2022 by Tim Grissom. All rights reserved.