Kids boarding school bus (vintage photograph via Unsplash)

Tracy's Story

A South Carolina morning spent with friends leads to the telling of a remarkable life.

“For the very fact that we live five minutes we affirm the existence of a ‘something”’ which deep down makes living those five minutes worthwhile.” (Chapter 5, The Religious Sense)

Recently, some of my friends gathered at a nursing home to sing Irish songs for a circle of remarkable elderly neighbors: Stan, Barbara, Imelda May, Margaret, Peggy, and Tracy. They sang with us and then we joined them in conversation. Each one of them shared with us a small window into their lives. I would like to share with you the story of Tracy because I heard in her story a beautiful witness to a “something” which deep down makes living a life like hers worthwhile.

Tracy, a petite black woman with her hair neatly done, had been a bus driver for a local school district for 25 years and a 25-year employee of Office Depot. She is a wife, a mother, a sister, and beloved in her community, school, and church. Hers was a story of a lifetime of love and kindness; her kindness to people and the outpouring of kindness she had received back from so many. The beautiful children that had come with us to sing provoked in her the memory of the children she drove to school everyday. My question of “how long did you drive?” unleashed a flood of recollections.

I learned that the children that rode her bus never had a problem with attendance. They got on the bus to attend school each day partly because hers was the face of love that greeted them every morning. The principal and the teachers of this school knew her and loved her as well. When the principal was struggling with the behavior of a group of boys, he asked Tracy to help. “People ask me, what is my secret and I tell them I just respect them, and they respect me.” One of those boys went on to college and made a special effort to let her know, and another one of them died tragically young, a loss she remembers with great sadness.

When her husband died, many of the teachers at the school brought her meals and wrote her notes of sympathy. “Everywhere I go, people know me, and they're always coming up and telling me they love me.” How many times did she repeat this, saying again and again, “My daughter would say, ‘Mamma, did you hear what that lady said to you?’ and I told her, ‘Yes I did, and I told her I loved her too,” and then quietly she would sometimes add, “The color of a person’s skin just doesn’t matter.”

Listening to Tracy talk about her life, I could see a whole community touched by her love in so many ways — a love that each carried with them into their own lives. Bus loads of children who went to school every day because they knew she was picking them up, children who cried when she retired, and grown children who cried because their own children would no longer get to see her everyday. Each story I heard painted a little bit more of a picture of a lifetime full of kindness and love. It reminded me of our recent reading from The Religious Sense chapter 5: Tracy seems to have lived knowing that she loved and was loved. Her story pointed me to the “something” that is affirmed in existence itself.

This moment of charitable work was just a small chunk of my own very busy day, but I can tell you with certainty that it was worth every minute. There was a reason Tracy told me her story. It is a story that would help me continue to live that day with my own family who needed me to be present and compassionate and kind. It is a story that I am choosing to share because Tracy’s life has meaning for all who have the ears to hear and the eyes to see that “something” which deep down makes life worth living. Tracy may be sitting in a wheelchair waiting for visitors or willing listeners, but she is also awaiting the culmination of a life well-lived and the fulfillment of a promise that someday she will see again her husband, her son, her mother, the boy from the bus, the strangers who loved her and the One whom she longs to see face to face. By sharing how she has been greatly blessed, she continues to be a blessing to many.

Phyllis, Greenville, SC