Margaret's birthday fell on a Sunday, less than a week after she buried her husband. There had been no warning, no preparation for the heart attack that had come, snatching him away so quickly. Granted, he'd not been feeling very well lately, wasn't quite his usual energetic self, but she never suspected that she would so suddenly be thrust into widowhood. Her family had a cake for her that Sunday afternoon, and she brought the last of it to church that night to share with those of us who were there. It was going to be a hard evening, John's long, lanky frame conspicuously absent. I had dreaded the thought of seeing that empty chair at the front of the room where he always sat.
To create an intimate, less formal setting, the chairs form a circle in that room. John's sat right next to Larry as he taught. He had been a preacher and there was hardly a night when he didn't have something to add. He was always polite, waving his hand when he wanted to expound a bit, and eventually Larry would motion to him, letting him have his say. Usually he was brief, but there were those occasions when he became especially passionate, turning our study for a time into a revival meeting. No doubt, he would be terribly missed. By all of us.
Both he and Margaret had taken a special interest in Richard, a man in his early thirties who is mentally slow, more child than adult. They had been especially kind where he was concerned, always taking time to visit with him, make him feel important and valued. Not everyone knows how to relate to Richard. His hygiene is less than exemplary and he tends to talk too loud. But he's faithful, rarely missing Bible study, sitting towards the back of the room near the coffee makers where he can mix his own hot chocolate. As I walked through the door on that particular Sunday evening, bracing myself to face the empty chair, I saw that it was occupied after all. There, sitting quietly next to Margaret, was Richard.
I don't remember Richard saying anything that night. He was simply there, bringing comfort to a grieving widow in the one way he knew how. He sat in that place next to her, in her husband's chair. And by doing so, he touched us all.