In this story from November 1952, acclaimed actress Loretta Young reminds us that our actions are measured by how lovingly we perform them.
Every once in a while when you greet a friend casually, and expect a conventional reply, you catch the truth instead.
It happened to me recently when I recognized on my motion picture set a man I hadn’t seen for a long time.
I said, “We’ve missed seeing you around. How’ve you been?”
“Well, I’m fine now,” he replied; then after a moment’s hesitation he blurted out, “but last year I died.” Dick Williams meant to be believed. “You may think it’s a fantastic story,” he said. “But I can prove every word of it.”
Up to a point it wasn’t fantastic at all. If anything, too heartbreakingly usual. What had once been simply an enthusiastic taste for strong drink became an obsession with Dick. He also had a malicious contempt for anyone with a dark skin.
Frankly, he admitted he had done nothing to curb his intemperance nor his intolerance until, at last, as he put it: “My life deteriorated into common drunkenness. My wife left me. No dough. No job. And I was running out of friends... the way you do.”
One couple who stuck by him, who realized how grim things had become, offered him their house as shelter while they were away on vacation. It was in that house that Dick “died.”
When his friends returned, they found him cold on the floor, and a physician made the official pronouncement.
Dick had caught pneumonia there alone; his head too fuzzy, his body too weak, even to know it. So that seemed to be the end of his life story.
But at the mortuary a new undertaker was entrusted with the job of preparing him for a poor man’s funeral.
Dick laughed, “Lucky for me he was a beginner. When it came to the embalming fluid, he got scared and went to get a more experienced man to watch him. When they came back, my eyes were moving.”
His next stop was the “dead room” of a large hospital, the place where hopeless cases await the end. But once again the end didn’t come.
The doctors, convinced now that something might yet be done, decided on a complicated method of administering oxygen. They made a frantic search for three nurses to undertake the constant care. Among the already overburdened staff there simply were not three available for that steady vigil.
Now, at the twelfth hour, it looked as though Dick Williams’ luck was out.
It was the Motion Picture Relief Association that finally located the nurses and, said Dick, “It was those three women who not only saved, but renewed, my life.”
His first conscious impression was of an ebony face bending close to his own. For fifty long hours those Black nurses worked tirelessly, patiently, lovingly, to give him back his life. And, in the end, Dick said, “If they were out of my sight, I felt lost, insecure. I cried for them.
“In my rebirth I didn’t just learn tolerance. I learned real, honest, brotherly love.”
Dick found a job, a very humble job, when he was well enough. He had an objective. He wanted to buy each of those women a watch, the fancy kind with second hands and things that nurses dote on. Today they have their watches but, said Dick, “I doubt if they’ll ever know what they really did for me.”
Dick truly began to be “born again,” as we are each told we must be. “I don’t drink any more. I’m working. When I make a friend, any friend, I’m grateful. I think I’m the luckiest guy alive,” he said.
“I find myself doing what, for the old me, would have been the oddest things. For example, wandering into churches, any church that’s open, at odd hours of the day and night. Sometimes I pray. Sometimes I just sit quiet and feel the peace of it.”
The glow of light that lingered with me was not beamed from the story of his remarkable physical recovery. It was, instead, the idea that love had set him free. Really free.
Suppose those nurses had done their work grudgingly? Or simply dutifully? Would that have wrought the “miracle"? Somehow Dick Williams didn’t think so...and neither do I.
Probably they felt they had done a small thing, something in the line of duty. Yet here their goodness was, like a shining pebble dropped in a big pond, sending forth ever widening ripples.
It made me realize that our acts must be measured by how lovingly we do them.
I have a friend, a sparkling, talented girl, whom my sisters and I have known since our school days. We thought of her then as the “one most likely to succeed.” Today she is married, has a house full of children, a parrot, a canary, three dogs, and a very nice husband with a very limited income.
Her hands and her head seem so full of household cares that sometimes I have been guilty of feeling sorry that all that talent was “wasted.”
The other day while her brood was in school, she came to tea and together we reminisced over the dreams we had woven as youngsters. “I didn’t come even close, did I?” she asked laughing. “I was going to set the world on fire. And every once in a while, of course, I dream still. Particularly on Sundays.”
“Why Sunday?” I asked.
“Do you know what it’s like to get a big family ready for Mass on time and all clean at once?”
Then she added thoughtfully, “But when my resentment tries to creep in, when my patience is thin or my tasks seem pretty meager and monotonous, then I do think of the Holy Family and what They went through and the example They have given us, and I go pretty humbly about my business.
"Getting my brood ready for Mass may be a long way from those brilliant dreams. But I am honestly happy to have a chance to hand out a hundred cups of water each day to my youngsters. And I wouldn’t change places with anybody.”
My friend was referring to Matthew 10:42 which we often quoted between us. She has achieved success far beyond many of the worldly people I know, for she is humbly living a life of loving helpfulness.
Humility, I find, is the gateway to so many hearts and has succeeded in tearing down walls no amount of reason and logic could budge. When humility has its perfect way with us, it moves mountains. Then we are willing to put man’s desires and will in the background and let God take over.
Recently I realized, much to my surprise, for I have been doing it unconsciously, that every night just before I go to sleep I repeat the same little prayer of my childhood, with my same childhood faith and trust.
Me, a grown-up woman, a Hollywood actress, a mother, a wife, saying just before I closed my eyes, “And please, dear God, make me a good girl.”
Momentarily I was upset. One reads so much of complexes these days that simplicity is regarded as suspect. Could I be trying, subconsciously, to escape the responsibility for carrying an adult burden in an adult world? So I checked with my mother.
“Mother,” I asked. “Is there any special prayer that you say every night before you go to sleep?”
My mother, a wise servant of God, serving Him so faithfully and well for so many years, thought a minute and then said, “Yes, there is. I say, ‘Give me a happy death and please, dear God, make me a good girl.’”
In the simplicity of that prayer, in that childlike attitude of the heart, lie, I am convinced, some of our biggest answers.
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