Irene Thorstad was a saint. Her crippled
little eighty-seven year old body was nearly doubled
over. The first time I walked into that congregation
at church an eon ago, I spotted her. She was different.
She had some kind of grace and energy that I had never
been around before – it was a glow. She could
barely reach her slip-on shoes. Shoestrings were out
of the question with those knobby, arthritic, knotted
hands. Canes stood waiting in every corner as she made
her way through her house and through life. But that
didn’t stop her. Every week for at least 10 to
12 hours, Irene was out doing her spiritual service
work teaching others. The more time I spent with her
the more I was convinced that Irene was an angel. I
recall long hours just sitting at the feet of my dear
friend listening to her talk about life, her beliefs
and her faith.
One afternoon Irene and I were walking in a neighborhood when a ferocious dog
lunged out at us from the bushes. He backed us into a ditch and barked incessantly,
baring his teeth, white, foamy saliva oozing from the corners of his mouth. I
gasped and put my arms around Irene to steady her. “Now, now dear these
are all God’s creatures,” she said in a reassuring tone. Into her
pocket she reached for the trail mix she carried with us everywhere in case she
needed it for energy. She pulled out a handful and tossed it to the dog who looked
a bit stunned and befuddled by her offer. He moseyed over to where she had thrown
her ransom and after several bites he disinterestedly exited the area feeling
pacified by the gesture. We crawled out of the ditch and went on our way, later
laughing until we nearly wet our pants at the sight we must have been. To Irene
God was in everything.
Irene often saw people do hurtful things and heard hurtful comments. She would
always respond when I was outraged by their behavior, that these were people
who were simply not yet healed and that some day they would understand. I always
think about Irene during the Holiday season. Perhaps because she embodied all
the things I feel the holidays should be about.
Irene never met a person she felt the need to judge. She never knew a person
she couldn’t grow to love. Irene dedicated the majority of her life to
living right, aligned with her own principles trying to making the world a better
place for all of us. There were no strangers to Irene, only family – huge
family in every part of the universe. Irene cried at the sight of beauty or an
unselfish act of love. She felt joy for the good fortune of others without an
ounce of envy and she always found a way to gently tell the truth. To Irene,
success and excellence was not about achieving perfection or reaching a state
of enlightenment but rather it was about having the character to strive for it.
It was about having the courage to be on the path.
Irene taught me that no matter where I am in the world or what the circumstances
of my life are, that Sprit is always right in the middle of it all when I am
willing to see it. She taught me that everything has wonder even darkness, not
knowing, vulnerability, mistakes, and everyone and everything I ever labeled
as wrong or right. She taught me that no matter what is, it is from that place
that I can begin to build what I want. She made everyday a wonder, another opportunity
for gifts of love and giving, another Christmas. Irene knew that love was the
greatest gift in the Universe, whether she was receiving it or giving it. Everyday
to her was Christmas because she had fallen in love with God, with life, and
with everyone whose life touched hers. She was radiant in that love. She has
been my angel since she left the earth.
This Holiday, I give you the gifts that Irene gave to me. If you can step out
of the holiday chaos, take a breath and feel the absolute glory in being alive,
you can know for a moment what Irene felt every day, even in her broken body.
I wish you tender moments of connection. I wish you joyous laughter and light.
I wish you new awareness of the value of life. And most of all I wish you great