To say Cherie was “daring” seems like a stretch. For me the word generates images of stout athletic thrill seekers who are undeterred by the risk of injury or possibility of physical challenge. Cherie wasn’t exactly what we would call an athlete. The only sport she ever competed in was dodgeball, on an intramural college team aptly named “Out Like a Phat Kid.”
Neither was she blessed with keen coordination. Her feeble attempts at dribbling a basketball resembled a four year old playing Whac-A-Mole at the local arcade. Her foray into the world of snow skiing ended when she failed to let go of the tow rope, taking out the machine, and sending the line of skiers in-tow behind her tumbling like dominoes.
She did however possess a few smooth moves. Her rendition of Napoleon Dynamite’s “Canned Heat” dance, complete with moon boots and a “Vote for Pedro” tee shirt was epic; as was her signature presentation on how to successfully maneuver in place and poop into a hole in the ground — an ability she mastered during her time in Africa.
Teaching her to ride a bike was harder than it should have been. I’d run behind her with my hand on her seat, promising to not let go. Afraid to go it on her own, I thought she’d never let me remove the training wheels. So, I secretly adjusted them until the wheels no longer touched the ground. From that point on, they provided nothing more than a mental sense of security. She finally reached the stage where she was able to trust her own instincts…and she never looked back again.
But actually, Cherie was very daring. She was compassionately daring, spiritually daring, benevolently daring. She dared to care out loud. She dared to acknowledge the forgotten and include the strays.
She dared to share her personal embarrassments for the sake of a good story. Dared to stand firm in her faith even when she knew judgmental people would accuse her of being the judgmental one.
Cherie dared to step out of her comfort zone, and proved to be much more daring than her father.
One winter day she called asking me to come to a bus stop where I would find a homeless woman who needed a companion and a place to warm up. Unbeknownst to me, she had been engaging homeless people for some time.
Cherie had brought this woman something to eat but had an appointment that could not be canceled, so she asked me to come take her place. Reluctantly I agreed.
On the bench sat a homeless woman draped in filthy scarfs and a scruffy coat. She was eating the sandwich Cherie brought her. I honestly couldn’t tell how old she was, fifty maybe, but then again she could have been in her thirties. A hard life had obviously taken its toll. Next to her sat four nasty tote bags containing what was probably all of her earthly belongings.
She reeked like a wet dog, at one point the odor being so foul it took my breath away. I’m sure she noticed my reaction, an occurrence she was probably all too familiar with.
I’m ashamed to say that the father Cherie was so proud of turned out to be little more than a mouse of a man. While Cherie sought to lighten the woman’s hardship, I couldn’t muster up the same desire, much less offer her a seat in my warm car. While Cherie chose compassion, I opted to pass the woman off on someone else. I called the police and asked them to help her.
We talk compassion and justice, but expect someone else to run point on making even the smallest difference. That was Cherie’s pet peeve.
Cherie knew she couldn’t change the poor woman’s circumstances, but she could at the very least acknowledge her struggle. Even though she wasn’t present at that moment, I could almost feel her disappointment in me.
How did she become so comfortable engaging the marginalized, those whom so many of us pretend just aren’t there? It was more than simply having the time, the resources or the desire to help. She fearlessly stepped into their world and contributed something significant — she poured out a few precious moments of much needed kindness.
Maybe, adjusting those training wheels gave her a confidence that went far beyond riding a bike…perhaps all the way to soaring like an eagle.
On second thought, perhaps Cherie wasn’t all that comfortable in those moments, maybe she was just daring enough to walk her talk and live out her faith. Maybe this quote from Jesus had something to do with it:
‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40
This encounter wasn’t a fluke, this was the quintessential Cherie: inherently kind, sensitive to injustice, and driven by the passion that came from deep within her core… a passion tempered by the flame of Christ’s mercy and grace.