I hadn’t seen Marlene, my middle-aged neighbor from across the street, for a couple of days. Aware of her drinking problem, I just assumed she was on another binge. But when I read her obituary that morning, I about fell off my high horse. After the shock, I noted the service time, realizing that Methodists always put on a great meal when one of their own checks out.
Never actually witnessing Marlene taking a drink, her slight swagger gave evidence to a nasty habit. She hauled away enough beer cans in the back of her late model station wagon every month to supply the village pub.
At first glance, you’d probably think my neighbor was a fine, upstanding, church-going woman. And actually, you’d be partially right. Marlene did cross the threshold of the Blessed Trinity United Methodist Church every Sunday morning. But as far as I knew, that’s where all godly appearances ceased. What I observed from my kitchen window told me the kind of woman she truly was. Oh yes, she was friendly and all – but when I saw our mailman, Jim, come out of her house after about an hour one day, I determined the two of them were up to no good. Might not have thought much about it but soon those hourly visits occurred more frequently and before I knew it, he was there every day for lunch, if you know what I mean.
I was certain the poor woman didn’t have any family because there hadn’t been a visitor at her house since the girl scouts launched their spring cookie drive. Now, as the leaves started changing colors, I noted that six months was a long time to go without any company, except for Jim that is.
The dimly lit sanctuary was quiet with the exception of the droning dirge fleeing the exhausted Hammond, fitting proof of Hell’s existence.
A shuffle at the back of the church demanded everyone’s attention – all heads turning to witness the procession, a silver casket accompanied by a six-man, black-suited sentry. It seemed as though Marlene’s ruse would hold up to the very end.
A short prayer and a reading of the obituary were delivered by the Reverend Adams. He then gave opportunity for the audience to say a few words about the deceased.
Sitting up front, a gentleman stood and addressed the small assembly. He looked so much younger out of uniform but I was certain it was Jim.
With shoulders shaking and tears saturating his mustache, Jim wiped his nose with a cloth handkerchief and retrieved a piece of paper out of his shirt pocket.
“My mom was the most amazing person I’ve ever known.”
Heads nodded and there were even a couple of audible ‘amens’. I started to sink into my pew. OMG…Jim the mailman was Marlene’s…
“Mom accepted people for who they were. She forgave and forgot. I’ve never known anyone more selfless and giving than my mom, even though financially, she didn’t have much to share. When there was a need, she figured out ways to help. Even in the early stages of M.S., she walked several miles every week, picking up aluminum cans and turning them in to raise money for the local food bank.”
Marlene had M.S.?
“Mom helped me get through the hardest time in my life – when our teen-age daughter was diagnosed with Leukemia. Every day I stopped at her house on my lunch hour, hoping for some encouraging words and much needed prayers. Mom always knew just the right thing to say.”
The knot in my stomach migrated to my throat.
“My mom was the real deal. She had no secrets, no skeletons in the closet, no unconfessed sins. What you saw was what you got. She was not a saint, she was not perfect…she was who God intended her to be.”
While others stood to give an account of the impact of Marlene’s life, I personally recognized my own preconceived misconceptions about this person who needed not justify her actions but who had remained on a path of righteousness.
Oh, what a miserable wretch am I.
As the service concluded, the Pastor invited the modest gathering of Marlene’s special friends and family to the fellowship hall for a meal to celebrate the life of one Marlene Smith.
Comprehending my exclusion, I escaped unnoticed, returning home to confess my horrible offense to the only one who would truly understand.
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