It is a cold March evening- a gray morning that gave way to a gray afternoon and is ending in a gray night- I am unsettled. My husband is still working and won’t be home until eight. I face a daunting prospect of dinner and bedtime alone with my kids. My 3-year-old daughter is antsy after a day indoors and I can’t say I’m much better myself, after a day of taking care of a newborn. I shake myself and stand up. I hurriedly pull on boots and coats and hats. I bundle up the baby boy in thick, cozy, shapeless bunting. We trudge through a path worn through snow piles, a small stone bridge through the woods and into a house that radiates warmth. It does not matter that I show up on this doorstep five days a week. The welcome is joyous. My daughter is swept away to be read to, played with and cuddled in a pile of giant stuffed animals. I am offered coffee! Water! Seltzer! Nuts! Bread! Fruit! Dinner! Until I say yes to something. The hospitality comes in overwhelming waves. The welcome is so strong it washes out my embarrassment at needing, once again, to escape my empty house. This aunt of mine has managed to create a space where everyone sits to rest. Where coffee is hot and conversation is warming. She seems to incorporate the unexpected needs of others into the rhythms of her day. The army she enlists in creating that warm chaos I have come to associate with family is her own children. There is always someone there to talk to, to show you the latest SNL skit, to offer you something to drink and eat (No, really- my 12-year-old cousin would politely ask, “What can I get you to drink? Pelligrino?”). And oh the food! My aunt is a use-your-best-dishes-everyday kind of person. She doesn’t save good treats for the holidays only. Eat this dulce de leche. Have you tried this sorbet? Have some fresh mozzarella on warm Italian bread.
And it’s all a little ridiculous. How does she get anything done? How does she finish homeschooling her kids? How is dinner ever finished? How could she afford to let us live next door rent-free for two years? But that’s kind of the point isn’t it? Love rarely makes sense, or works out mathematically. It rarely leads to clean lines or clean houses.
At Bible Study we read the story of the woman who anoints Jesus. She pours out that thick, rich perfume over his head, over his feet, crying and wiping his feet with her hair right there at the dinner table. How messy, how sensual, how scandalous! It’s sad that we can still be so shocked at scandalous love. We are suspicious of too much sacrifice. Couldn’t that have been done more neatly, more efficiently? Why didn’t she pull him aside and say, “I’m praying for you,” write a note expressing her love in a more culturally- appropriate manner? But someone mentioned that because of hygiene habits and the type of perfume it was, Jesus probably could smell that perfume as he hung on the cross. I wonder if that comforted him? I wonder if even as he was dying, he could close his eyes and remember eating surrounded by people more like family, being physically touched and cried over by his friend who was there watching him from the bottom of the cross. I wonder if the scent that lingered triggered memories of love.
I think love can do that. Sacrifice for someone else can leave a scent- a mark- that lingers past the actual act. I see it in the way my kids still think bagels- hot to the touch slathered in butter- is one of the best treats to eat. I see it every time I load my fruit basket- the wicker threads fishtailing into each other to make a cord of three strands. I see it in the way my daughter preaches, tall and proud atop the coffee table, her theology unfolding before an audience of stuffed animals and little brothers. I see it in my own changed theology- a little more open, like I suddenly have more elbow room in my faith. These are things I received from my aunt and her willingness to love. They linger like the scent of expensive perfume over my new home. And trigger memories of love and sacrifice for me.
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