There is an old Sufi story that is told about a woman who the angels longed to bless with the most profound gift a human could carry…a gift so powerful that it would have the power to truly impact the world. After much arguing among themselves, they narrowed their potential gift list to the three top influential qualities…virtue, power, and persuasion. God wisely told the angels that they should ask the woman if one of these gifts would be what she would wish for. The woman listened politely as the angels made their case, but steadfastly refused each gift. Indignant, the angels insisted that she choose some gift or simply hold the one they would choose for her. After much consideration, the woman responded, "If I must carry a gift, I ask that I may do a great deal of good without ever knowing it." From that day forth, every time the woman's shadow fell behind her it would have the power to sooth pain and comfort sorrow. As she walked, behind her, her shadow made arid paths green, caused withered plants to bloom, brought fresh color to that which was bland, and replaced unhappiness with a stirring of joy. The woman simply went about her daily life diffusing her touch into the world, without ever being aware of it. In time her name would be forgotten and she would simply be remembered as The Holy Shadow who would continue to cast itself in the world as long as it should exist.

We have all been touched by that Holy Shadow, by the impact another makes in our lives simply through the gift of their presence. We have been blessed now for many years to share our family life (and Sunday afternoons) with a 93 year old wise sage and mentor known in the world as Ms. Bennie. It was love at first sight when Bennie welcomed our searching family to her church, and it didn't take long for a mutual "adoption" to take place, finding comfort in each other's hearts and homes. An adopted grandparent-of-choice for our children and a soulful guide of sorts for Dana and I, our "Sundays with Bennie," garnished with wine, cheese, and gluten-free crackers, have become a cherished ritual for each of us.

It has become painfully obvious that Bennie has grown increasingly tired over the past few years, and her aging body has made it more challenging for her to be as physically active as she would prefer. In many ways Bennie has been gently preparing us for the inevitable end of her life journey, and there is a certain urgency to spend as many Sundays with her as we possibly can. It is indeed a privilege to have the opportunity to sit and visit with her about the changes she has witnessed throughout her life that have impacted our political, social, educational, and relational institutions.

Though the changes to her tiny body continue to limit Bennie's physicality, her mind is as sharp as ours and her spirit remains strong and vibrant. Her ability to accept those nagging physical changes while refusing to give them any more power than is unavoidable is absolutely inspiring. Although not an exhaustive list, some of the lessons we have learned over the years from Bennie include: maintenance of personal boundaries is CRUCIAL; cherish your time with your family; recognize when it's time to let your children do it THEIR way; have a purpose behind every choice; never ASSUME that people want/need your help; learn to accept what is out of your control to change; realize that your perspective is just one of many; and ALWAYS, ALWAYS, preserve time and energy for yourself and the things and people that really matter most. What Ms. Bennie perceives as our Sundays being about us lifting her spirits, is so much more her lifting ours. We have watched the living of her life, we have listened to the telling of her stories, and we have been touched by a wisdom that is carried in that shadow.

Even though Bennie recognizes that life will continue to challenge her in her final years, whether it be recovering from a broken arm as a result of a fall, or trying one more time to get the correct prescription of reading glasses, she is not looking to "throw in the towel" prematurely. She still finds joy in the flower baskets that adorn our backyard fence and watching the squirrels chase each other through the treetops. She still appreciates a glass of good cabernet while exploring new tastes in cheese and crackers. We have no idea how many "Sundays With Ms. Bennie" are in our future, but we do know that we will forever treasure the lessons we have learned from this Holy Shadow securely tucked in our hearts and in our memories.

Bennie would take issue with our bequeathal of "Holy Shadow" upon her. She is just a woman who continues to be busy living her life, unaware in so many ways of the touch she is leaving behind. Through the legacy of those bearing the Holy Shadow, we are each uplifted, encouraged, strengthened, infused, inspired, and energized to live out our own potential. Who embodies this Holy Shadow presence in your own life? Here's to all of the Ms. Bennies in the world and the gift of inspiration they bring to us all.