Tuesday, April 22, 2008

It is All About Love

Each Sunday my husband and I are privileged to help conduct a LDS Sacrament Meeting at the CareSource Hospice in Holladay. The sweet, elderly people living there are terminal, most with less than three months to live. We call the hospice "God's Waiting Room" and we are the send-off crew.
CareSource Hospice in Holladay

A wonderful part of the calling is to ask a friend or ward member to speak at our half-hour meetings. We have heard some touchingly sweet messages from our neighbors. In turn each of these speakers is moved by the amazing spirit in this facility.

Our neighbor Stacey is a remarkable woman with an incredible story. She shared her account with the residents at the hospice last Sunday. It goes something like this:

Fresh out of college, Stacey was asked to teach at the homeless shelter's one room school near the freeway viaduct in downtown Salt Lake--a daunting challenge for an experienced teacher, let alone a young woman of twenty-two.

As she arrived the first day, with fear and trepidation, a wild-eyed, wild-haired man led her to a group of adults huddled around a fire they had built under a viaduct. Some of them were parents of children she would be teaching. He introduced Stacey as the new teacher and the others began firing questions at her. They laughed when she admitted that this was her first real job. A woman sitting on the curb said, "Well, honey, you ain't got nowhere to go but up."

At The School with No Name, as it came to be called, Stacey taught up to 25 students a day, ranging across all 13 grades, crammed into a 12' by 12' room in a shed. Each time someone needed to reach one of the battered books on the cinder block shelves, the whole back row had to stand up and move their desks. Stacey would walk around in the morning knocking on parked cars to round up her students for class. She didn't know then that she would come to regard this bottom-of-the-barrel job as the one place in the world she was meant to be. "At first I cried every night. Now I would be sick if I had to leave," Stacey says. "The children give much more to me than I give to them."

Such was the case of nine-year-old Dana. When she first came to the school she wouldn't talk or even look up at Stacey. Dana flinched if someone tried to touch her. Slowly she gained enough confidence to talk a little. Then Stacey had to go into the hospital for radiation treatments as a follow-up for thyroid cancer. Dana lingered after school with her hands hidden behind her back. She asked Stacey if she were scared and Stacey admitted she was a little. Then Dana said, "I have something that will help you." She placed a black-and-white stuffed bear on the teacher's desk and stepped back. "He'll go with you to the hospital. It helps to hold him tight when you're afraid," Dana explained, promising, "It really works."

Stacey's eyes filled with tears and all she could manage to say was "Thank you, Dana." All went well at the hospital and Stacey returned to her classroom--only to find Dana gone!

Later she asked the shelter staff about Dana's history. The little girl lived with her father but custody had been awarded originally to the mother. A neighbor had called the police because she had not seen Dana or her little brother for several days. The mother and her boyfriend claimed the children were away visiting an aunt. But the police persisted and found the two children locked in the cellar. They were crouched on a damp, dirt floor in an unlit, windowless room. They had no food or water and were very weak. With one hand Dana was holding her younger brother, and in the other hand she clutched a dirty, black-and-white bear.
Stacey was heart-broken to learn that she possessed the one and only thing in Dana's life which gave her comfort and stability. She decided to tell Dana's story in order to help others learn this poignant example of love. Dana gave Stacey the only thing she had to give.

Such heart-rending stories were not uncommon in Stacey's job. One day she was talking to her class about the importance of friendship and about showing people we love them by the things we say. A boy replied matter-of-factly, "You know, teacher, nobody don't love nobody."

That searing phrase haunted Stacey and she choose it for the title of her book about the lives of the shelter children and her experiences teaching them. She felt she had gained so much from the children, she wanted more people to have a chance to learn what she had learned: that each of us is merely the product of what was given to us as children—not the things, but the time, experience, and love.

Nobody Don't Love Nobody is sad and inspiring. "It has really spurred incredible interest," says Stacey who has become a national figure, traveling all over the country advocating the educational rights of impoverished children.

Our elderly friends at the Hospice are like the young children in Stacey's story. Many cling to stuffed animals, baby dolls, or pictures of grandchildren. It is all they have left in this life, other than their personal knowledge of our Savior and his love for them.

It really is all about LOVE, whether we are nine or ninety. Each individual is valuable and loved in God's eyes---so it should be with us.


TravelinOma said...

This post really touched me. You've written it so well and the story itself is awesome. You did some good in my world today by sharing the work you do on Sundays.

Tina said...

Thank you so much for sharing that story. It touched my heart, and helped me remember to show more love. Thank you!