Updated: Sep 1
His name was Grady Waters. He was gray and slightly stooped. If he had had a wife or children I never knew it. He sat in the corner on the front row next to the wall. He wore a white dress shirt and dark pants. I couldn’t tell you anything about his tie other than he always wore one. For many years he sang in the choir of the small Pentecostal church in which I was reared, until, I think, someone shared with him what the rest of us already knew – that he couldn’t sing, that his was not a joyful noise. But it is not his white shirt or perfect attendance or inability to carry a tune that makes me remember him over 50 years later. The reason I remember Grady Waters, the reason I will tell you that he is the first saint I ever knew is this: Every Sunday morning, every Sunday night, every Wednesday night, every night of every revival we ever had, just before the preacher strode toward the pulpit to begin the sermon, Grady Waters rose slowly from his corner, approached that same pulpit with a confident timidity, and removed the empty water glass that sat there. He left the sanctuary by the side door and, two minutes later, returned with the glass full of water. The tenderness with which he replaced that glass within reach of the preacher was the same, I am certain, as that with which the Magi made their own simple offerings to the Christ Child. I never saw anyone else take the empty glass and return it full. We were all sure that Grady Waters would do his job, fulfill his role. He did not have much in terms of wealth or power or anything else, but he had a purpose and he lived out that purpose with a faithfulness that the rest of us took for granted, a faithfulness that was not fueled by acknowledgment or gratitude or some title conferred upon him by people we called leaders, but rather an awareness of the goodness in us all. It’s been eighteen months since the world changed. Eighteen months since every job became dangerous and those that were already dangerous became frighteningly so. Since we started pointing people out for their selfless service, calling them angels and heroes. Then just when we thought the world was turning aright, it didn’t. So, here we are again, calling upon the same people to do the same impossible things. And, not just calling really, but demanding, expecting, requiring. It is in these moments that we are forced to admit that teachers aren’t angels and nurses aren’t heroes. They are simply people who are, as my pastor said last Sunday, “living into the original goodness into which we were made.” However you believe you came to be walking around in a human body, whatever you think is the source of your sentience, you were created in goodness and manifest in beauty. You were made to be a gift to the world. And in allowing that to happen, in handing yourself over to be ripped open by greedy hands, you will – like your child’s teacher smiling behind her mask, like the health department nurse standing in the sun to give you a COVID test, the doctor intubating your neighbor, like Grady Waters ever constant, ever trustworthy, ever faithful to his task – become a saint.