Middle-aged Jane and her younger brother, Sam, come just about every Thursday night to eat dinner at the soup kitchen where I volunteer. They live together in government housing.
Jane looks like Cleopatra with long, straight back hair, and bangs that cover half her forehead. She wears a ring on each finger and at least one, sometimes two, silver necklaces. When I compliment Jane on her choice of jewelry, she smiles.
Her stocky built is usually wrapped in black slacks and a brightly patterned black top with swirls of color including orange, yellow or green.
Each week I sit with Sam and Jane. We talk about the weather, sports, what they did since last Thursday or something that broke the monotony of their daily routine. Sam is friendly and eager to talk. Jane is much more hesitant, tentative and guarded, not too open to conversation. I learned they have a tradition when they receive their welfare checks on the first of each month. They pay their bills, then eat breakfast at McDonald's and dinner at a Chinese restaurant.
Over the weeks, I learned Jane's daughter died suddenly last year and she is estranged from her two sons. Their parents are not living.
"Jane, I missed you last week," I said Thursday when I saw her and Sam enter the dining room. "How are you today?"
"I just got a call forty minutes ago from my niece that my sister died."
"Oh, no. Is that sister the one you talk to everyday?"
"Yes, that's the one. We sometimes talk three times a day."
"I am so sorry. I you pray for you and your family as you make arrangements for the funeral."
"Thank you," she said looking at the floor.
When Sam and Jane finished dinner I wanted to give both of them a hug. I walked to their table, approached each one slowly, but Jane pulled back and Sam walked away. My heart hugged them out as they faced days of grief.
The following week when Sam and Jane came for dinner, I wanted to hear about the funeral and learn how they were doing.
"My sister couldn't read or write," Jane said. "We talked three times a day. I really miss her."
"I am sorry. Here is a card for you and Sam, and another card just for you to read after your surgery on Monday. You are in my prayers, Jane."
She extended her chubby, ring covered hand, which I grasped firmly. She gave me a part of herself with a simple gesture of gratitude from trust gained over time and crumbs.
Celtic spirituality uses a term "thin places" to describe moments with persons or in places touched by a deep awareness of God's presence. I realized when Jane extended her hand, I was in a "thin place" where God had touched Jane's heart with strength to reach out and receive love I waited long to offer.