They Came My Way
Who Are the Life Lighters?
“I long, as does every human being, to be at home where I find myself.”
It was 1990. Internationally, the Communist Party gave up sole power of the government in the USSR. After 27½ years of imprisonment, Nelson Mandela was freed from jail. Iraq invaded Kuwait setting in motion the Persian Gulf War. Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, resigned as Britain’s Prime Minister while Lech Walesa won the Presidential election in his native country of Poland. In December Russia’s Mikhail Gorbachev won the Nobel Peace Prize.
In the US unemployment was at 5.6%. The median household income was within $57.00 of reaching the $30,000 level. Astronomy reached a milestone in its ability to explore the heavens with the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope.
San Francisco walloped Denver in the Super Bowl, 55-10 and Tark’s Runnin’ Rebels from UNLV upended Duke to win the National basketball championship. Driving Miss Daisy won the Academy’s Best Picture. Bette Midler won the Grammy for record of the year with Wind Beneath My Wings and Robert Bly released Iron John while John Updike published Rabbit at Rest.
In January, I was installed as the Senior Minister of a community church in Arcadia, where I had been the PE coach for the ministry’s day school way back in 1964.
It was early February, 1990, when I received a call from Dana West letting me know that her mother, Alicia, was in the Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. Dana’s call to me was to the point, “Mom wants to see you one more time before she passes on.”
During my eighty-year tenure as Minister of the Center for Positive Living in Santa Rosa, Alicia served three-plus years as the Church Administrator. She had knocked down breast cancer on two occasions during the last ten years. During her second battle, a most difficult situation occurred when her eldest daughter was diagnosed and died of cancer.
I had been of help to Alicia through the loss of her daughter. In turn, she became the professional coordinator of church programming representing me in the endless coordination of details surrounding a ministry that was quite active with a counseling center, bookstore, Pre-School as well as life enrichment classes and special events for the Sonoma County community.
As the Administrator, Alicia was my chief of staff and most trusted advisor. Alicia carried the spiritual gifts of hospitality and discernment which she uniquely packaged as a firm hand worn with a velvet glove of caring for others. When there was trouble, she gave it to me unvarnished and, in doing so, she became my Sounding Board as I navigated the gauntlet of church problems.
I had come to respect and love Alicia as one of those rare, priceless, exceptional human beings who come your way to remind you what really grand people do when they find their life called to the activity of what I describe as the Life Lighter. Alicia had blessed me and many others with her very special life of influence for Good.
From 1986 to 1989, after our family moved from Santa Rosa to Mission Viejo, we made annual long weekend trips in the Fall to Sonoma County to visit family and friends. Alicia was always on our short list!
Receiving Dan’s phone call on a Sunday afternoon meant just one thing: Drop everything and get to Santa Rosa. By the following Monday evening I walked through the doors of Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, where two of my four children had been born, to journey to the oncology floor where I experienced the most incredible two hours I ever had with an individual.
Arriving at her room I thought I had come to comfort and to say good-bye. I got it half wrong and half right! Yes, this was Good-Bye overshadowed by celebration, not comfort, in a magical atmosphere for two good friends.
If you, my reader, will re-read Maya Angelou’s words that began this storytelling, I believe you will understand that her words capture, for me, The Why of what went on during my visit. Alicia had arrived at home with herself. The decade-long cancer battles were done…not ending in despair but celebrating all she had come to know as the Good she had drawn into her life to express.
Join me now as I remember walking into a hospital room with balloons and cards all around. There she was…Alicia…as radiantly fresh and alive to the moment as my grandchildren are with me today when I do Facetime with them…giggling with delight as I say Boo while peeking onto the screen.
Alicia was free to love life Right Now! In her acceptance of Right Now I met Love on a variety of fronts: we talked about our wars together and how she knew what an idiot I could be! We laughed hysterically about a church retreat that went awry in ways I don’t have time to explore. We listened to some of Alicia’s favorite music on her cassette deck (you do remember those) and we sang together. We talked about our children. When I asked if she would like to do a Communion Service together, she said, Yes. I had brought sacramental elements with me, in case this was her desire. She asked if I would sing a song that our congregation had sung many times together.
She said, “Russ, I love you very much for all you have meant to me.” And as I expressed that the Love Street travelled in both directions, I wept. I hugged. I stood and went to the door…turned and said, “Good Bye.”
She smiled with a knowing that lives with me, “Good Bye…for now.”
Two days later, Alicia passed. My wife and I returned to Santa Rosa a week-plus later to lead a celebration service for a most beautiful human being who came my way… Alicia West, a Life Lighter!