The disaffected matriarch

I learned a valuable lesson about focusing on people's needs, not trying to impress or appease them.

Donald J. Gardner is pastor of the St. George's Episcopal Church, Clifton Park, New York.

Newly ordained, I took charge of a small village church in some conflict. The Senior Warden suggested I visit one of the local matriarchs, who was disaffected. The Warden told me, incidentally, of her devotion to her ancient cat, Toby.

Seeing a chance to ingratiate myself on a first visit, I stopped and picked up a catnip toy with which to gain Toby's affection and, I hoped, that of his mistress. Early in my conversation with the woman, a monster-sized old cat crawled out from under the sofa.

"Oh, look, a kitty," I simpered, reaching in my pocket and withdrawing the catnip toy. I tossed it in Toby's direction. Toby stopped for a moment, then leapt upon the toy, threw it high in the air, and finally catapulted himself into a leap prodigious even for his size. Upon returning to earth, he lay there in an unexpected lifeless heap in front of us, evidently expiring from his unaccustomed exertions.

After that interminable silence which follows major disasters, I asked, "Anything I can do for you?"

"No thank you," the matriarch retorted icily. "You've done quite enough!"

I never did see or hear from her again. But I learned a valuable lesson about focusing on people's needs, not trying to impress or appease them.


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Donald J. Gardner is pastor of the St. George's Episcopal Church, Clifton Park, New York.

March 1999

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