A long time ago, I had a conversation with a friend that I have never, ever forgotten. Her name is delightfully, “Penny”. Penny is rich, gloriously rich with money of her own, a fabulous home, a Mustang convertible, and a fleet of other cars. She might as well have them all named for the days of the week. ‘Monday’, ‘Tuesday’, ‘Wednesday’…I love going to visit her because her house is like a museum: every thing in it has a history, a story behind it, and I love to hear her talk. She talks a great deal, Penny does, about nothing, and yet about EVERYTHING that was ever important to humankind. She is brilliant, and yet she doesn’t realize that she is so. She’s intelligent, but she thinks she’s a “dumb blonde”. She’s worldy, but she has this ‘otherworldy’ air about her, that speaks to the very heart of a person. She is so fabulously rich, yet she makes chocolate chip cookies every afternoon, for her evening dessert. She does it, she says, because she wishes to be “young again”, and to remember always the innocence of her youth.
And yet Penny is one of the most humble, simple hearted, most dedicated Christians I know. She is not Orthodox, but is firmly “Church of Ireland” and whenever she talks, the Gospel shines through.
On that long ago Sunday, we were sitting in her “garden”, an actual “botanical” garden if you know what I mean, complete with bronze statues, strategically placed benches, and sculptured hedges. Even the bushes are trimmed into pieces of fine art. Who knew that Michaelangelo’s “David” would end up re-done in a rhododendron? Penny’s garden gives new meaning to the phrase “going green”.
Penny lives in Ireland. Not just anywhere in Ireland, but in a real castle that is dated to the 13 th century. She opens her home to visitors, because “times are difficult” and “all this is just window dressing, don’t you know?”
So there we were, in our formal dresses (because Penny enjoys “dressing for tea”) and having our tea and biscuits in the garden, a veritable paradise, and Penny was saying quite conversationally, as if people everywhere had such lofty and deep thoughts:
“…well, you know, then I thought myself: If I had a nice husband, then I would really be happy...but then I got a nice husband, but as time went on he wasn’t as nice to me as I got older, and then I thought to myself, ‘well, okay, if i had perfect children, then i would really be happy. But I wasn’t, even though I did have wonderful children. They really are a comfort you know, when you think you haven’t done anything worthwhile, you can look at them, and say “well, it wasn’t all so bad!”
And so then I thought, ‘Well, if i just had a nice house, you know then i would really be happy...”
But that didn’t work out so well, because then I had to clean the thing, you know…so then i thought, ‘Well, if i only had a good maid, and a staff of servants, then i would really be happy...”
So then, I decided to hire all these people and now I never get a moment’s peace, and now I think, “Well, if I could just get rid of all this stuff, then I would really be happy!”
Wisdom! Let us attend!
How well, I understand, now, after all this time, what she was trying to tell me. But it only really just hit me today. And so I post it here, so that I don’t forget it.
Penny gave her life to others. She eventually sold all her possessions and gave it all to the poor, as our Lord commanded. She is “judged” by many to be an “eccentric”. But to me, she was the Irish version of a fool-for-Christ. She lived well; she gave even more. She enjoyed life; she made sure others less fortunate were able to enjoy it too. When the economy went into “over drive” in Ireland and everyone was busy making money, she opened her “home” to orphans and to abused women. She created an entire “shelter” for those same abused women on her estate, who later spit on her grave. All for the love of Christ.
Dear and glorious Penny…you are a true sister and guardian. No one else wanted to tell me the truth about myself, all those years ago, but you found a way to explain it. Although I did not understand until today, I give thanks to you for what you said so faithfully. I give thanks that I had the privilege of knowing you.