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 love.
© Dr. Dina Bachelor Evan 2013