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A New Beginning for Sylvie
by Janice Cartwright
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Sylvie sat near an open window gazing out at her front lawn. Her expression, which had been deeply pensive, changed suddenly to one of nervous agitation. Across her field of vision came dog and then cat: the dog of much breadth lumbered, the cat streaked, and was fast gaining on the dog that yelped and whimpered as it galloped. When she saw Ellen up to her usual pranks, Sylvie momentarily forgot her worries. Her cat of fourteen years terrorized every dog in the neighborhood. She rapped on the pane but neither Ellen nor the dog paid her any mind. Oh well. In Sylvie’s lap lay an officious-looking letter as yet unopened. For some time now she had been unable to attend church as often as she used to and her giving had dropped off considerably. For that reason she feared the purpose of the letter was to inform her that her name would be removed from the church roster. The very thought distressed her no end. --- For over half a century, Sevela Jane Adams, known to her friends as Sylvie, had been the unofficial seamstress for her church. Over the years, in any spare time she could snatch from teaching, she had stitched her way through veritable mountains of sewing projects: choir robes that needed mending or altering; velvet covers for kneeling pads at the altar; curtains for Sunday School rooms and tapestries for the vestry. She had sewn more kids’ pageant costumes than she nor anyone else could keep track of. Her church pals used to stand in amazement, “Sylvie, you hop around like a flea – don’t know how you get a thing done. But if you don’t accomplish more than all the rest of us put together my name isn't (and here you may insert Sister ‘whoever’ it was poking harmless fun at Sylvie)! Must be your gift!” Sylvie knew it was true; and what joy to one whose only family had been her church sisters and brothers. Not only had she been orphaned at an early age, but she never married and so had no children or known living relatives. But now her gift and the days of her usefulness were all behind her, it seemed. What with that upstart preacher they hired, and most of her friends either having passed over or gone their separate ways, Sylvie felt few would even recognize her name: much less the role she had played in the life of her church. -- The noise of cat-versus-dog battle having tapered off, the aged woman reverted to her original posture. Sylvie stared out, as if in a trance. A few dispirited, brown leaves circled in their own personal, small tornado, then under power of an instant gust went scooting across the lawn. Sylvie compared herself to the leaves: dry and useless, spent and good for nothing but the burn pile. What good was she to a blessed soul on earth. “What good am I to you, Lord, for that matter?” Her head began to droop more and more until she bent nearly double into her lap. “Oh Lord, just take me home,” she sobbed, her tears dampening the front of her dress. “Sylvie?” It was Torie, Sylvie’s care-giver. “I got the soup all heated up now… and don’t it smell good!” Alarmed to be caught in such an emotional display, she straightened her spine, pulled a tissue from its container and made some quick dabs at her eyes. “Mmmmmm.” Torie’s narrow, plain face widened in a smile of encouragement. “If you want we can have some of them nice oyster crackers you like so much, too. Sprinkle some on top? C’mon now, you hadn’ had a bite all day.” With some difficulty, Sylvie sought to release the hand-brake on her wheel-chair. “At least I can still do that,” she chirruped in an attempt to sound upbeat. But as sharp pain stabbed through her fingers she winced and had to stifle a cry. From past experience Torie had learned not to take notice. “Would you like me to open your letter for you? Before we go in to lunch?” “Would you, please? And read it aloud to me too, if you don’t mind. May just as well get this over with.” Torie accepted the letter and drew up a chair. A friendly greeting from Pastor Tom, his family, and Members at Large started off the letter. After that came a few incidental items obviously pulled from the latest bulletin. But then followed something that left Sylvie speechless: Pastor was thanking her for her many years' service to the church (she didn’t think he even knew she existed). Furthermore, the Women’s Ministry planned a special banquet to be held in her honor Sunday after next, after services. As if that weren't enough (and here Torie‘s voice rose to a higher, clearer pitch), “would you be thinking in the meantime about leading the new ladies’ prayer group our church is forming? The Lord has been making clear to us our church can move forward only upon its knees. You can hold the meetings right there at home if you like.” The council had been unanimous in naming her as their first choice. Nothing short of a miracle, Pastor Tom‘s letter had a galvanizing effect on Sylvie. She had always known God gifted her with special talent for sewing and needlework and she had experienced great fulfillment in using her gift to serve her church family. When they called on her expertise it made her feel valued and needed. But lately so much had changed. Sylvie often felt like a dinosaur at church, and not at all that much like herself at home, for that matter. But now the Lord seemed to be opening up a new path, leading her in a whole new direction. Intercessory prayer leader? At past 70 years of age? It was an awesome thought, but one that filled her up with joy. In record time Sylvie‘s old feistiness manifested itself in her speech: “Torie, were you telling me the truth about that soup? Or were you planning on starving us to death today?” Torie felt like doing a tap dance around the room. Instead, she reorganized her face and retorted in the way she sensed the new ‘old’ Sylvie would have expected her to, “Well I was just wonderin’ if you was going to sit aroun’ all day reading letters ‘til the soup got stone cold. Humph. Now I’ll just hafta’ heat it all up again.” Just then yowls, whimpers and a few house-quaking thumps sounded from outside. Sylvie figured Ellen must be at it again. “Somebody forgot to tell that cat she’s been an old lady for quite some time now.” When at the same instant Sylvie and Torie realized the all too obvious comparison they both started to snigger. “Somebody also forgot to tell the dog,” Torie threw in: and that broke the dam. After that the two couldn’t stop laughing until tears ran down both their cheeks. For Sylvie, it was the first deep belly laugh she'd had in far too long. It felt unbelievably wonderful. When finally they settled down Torie shifted Sylvie’s wheelchair around and started her in the direction of the kitchen. She noted the light shone so much brighter in there.

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