September 21, 2020

Steve McFarland: Hugs For Mrs. Hardesty

Hugs For Mrs. Hardesty
by Steve McFarland

My neighbor told me a story the other day that made me think. Really think. This story has nothing to do with education and everything to do with how we think about the more important school called life. I want to introduce you to Mrs. Hardesty.

Mrs. Hardesty is a woman I have known all my life. I grew up with her twelve children and now she lives alone. Since her husband died much of her time is spent walking in our neighborhood, taking care of her yard and praying for her children, grandchildren and friends. Each morning at around 4:00 a.m. she walks to her local Catholic church to pray. I sometimes secretly hope she is praying for me. This woman is the poster child of godliness.

On this particular morning I was in my usual mad rush when I heard her voice yelling for me, asking if I had a minute. She had a story she wanted to tell me. Now I may not be the most sensitive person or the smartest, but when this woman wants to tell me something she becomes E.F Hutton and I am going to listen to her.

She said the other day she was having a really bad morning so she got on her knees beside her bed and began to pray for help. I was already feeling humbled. My prayer life looks more like channel surfing than the posture of humility of this saint. I wondered to myself how many times she has been on her knees. I’m guessing that after raising twelve children, those knees are practically worn out. I have two children and spend many sleepless nights worrying. Twelve is almost unthinkable. Her life has not been easy for other reasons. The children were not able to have very much, yet Mr. and Mrs. Hardesty managed to put them through a private Catholic school on a single modest income.

I recall one of her children nearly dying from a face-first fall into broken glass when he was a baby. Another son nearly lost his leg from a terrible accident. She has two grandchildren who are severely handicapped and I see her taking care of them occasionally. She has lived through many heartbreaks on behalf of her children, including divorce, lost jobs, misguided directions and broken hearts. Mrs. Hardesty has done her time in the school of life.

In her prayer she admitted she was feeling the blues, and conceded to God that what she really needed was a hug. Imagine that being all she would ask for. I wish I could appreciate the hugs I receive with the same gratitude. I wish I could want hugs that much. I want to realize their value. I feel ashamed at the thought of how I desire my rare free time be spent – usually alone, with a book, not being bothered by someone wanting to give me hug, or wanting to talk or play basketball or go fishing or take a drive or watch a movie together. I love my family, but actually feel some relief when we get a break from each other. I just hoped as she shared her story that my penitence wasn’t showing.

It is here that the story takes on a quality greater than just the usual narrative of daily happenings. After praying, she went out on her front porch and waited for the mailman, which she says is one of the more exciting events of a rather sedentary life. Her sense of humor has always been amazing. Gee, I want to be laughing at her age. Anyway, she suddenly noticed a line of small children from a local pre-school walking down her sidewalk, all holding a little rope to prevent them from becoming detached and wandering off. (By the way, wouldn’t it be great every now and then to just grab the rope and let someone lead you like that? “Ok, Steve, it’s time to turn left now. Watch the cars and don’t get too close to the street.”)

As they came toward her she commented to them, “What a wonderful morning for a walk.” Suddenly one little boy broke away from the rope and came running up to her and gave her a hug. It seemed as she told me this that her prayer must have reached the emergency bin of heaven as it was so quickly and exactly answered. And it gets better.

After her first hug the children got in a line and proceeded to follow suit. There were seventeen children in all, and that morning Mrs. Hardesty received seventeen hugs.

The amazing thing is that she only asked for one. Sometimes God just doesn’t know when to stop.

There are prayers being issued every second of every day. World leaders are asking their God to lead them through decisions that will impact millions of people for generations to come. There are mothers and fathers offering weary prayers for terminally ill children. There are prisoners begging God to set them free. There are husbands and wives praying for broken marriages, and drunks praying for one sober night. And yet on that morning God must have set everything else aside and reached out to hug Mrs. Hardesty seventeen times.

Teary-eyed, I embraced her and said through my broken voice, “Here is eighteen.” As she walked back across the street she turned and said, “God is really gracious.”