One of the things I love about our public library is the way they display children’s books to catch your attention. We have our favorite characters and series, but our librarians always pick books you might not find if you were just looking at endless rows of books. In our last trip, we picked such a book called Addy’s Cup of Sugar. There was a girl and a panda bear on the cover, so I was sure it would be a winner with my young daughter. It also said it was based on a Buddhist story of healing, which sounded intriguing.
Little did I know how powerful this children’s book would be. For those of you who have not read it (spoiler alert!), the book is about a girl whose cat dies. She talks to her friend, the panda bear, about bringing the cat back to life. The bear says the only way to accomplish that is for her to help him with the supplies he will need – specifically a cup of sugar from a neighbor; but the cup of sugar must come from a home where no one has experienced death. So off Addy goes, and slowly we learn through her visits and beautiful conversations with neighbors that not one single house in her neighborhood has been unaffected by death. You can imagine the conversation Addy and the bear have upon her return at the close of the day.
After recovering from being sideswiped by the emotional power of the book, I began to reflect on my work as a priest. As part of my vocation, I am entrusted with fullness of people’s stories – grief they might not confess to their loved ones, weariness they may not show in their tough facades, anger at God they are afraid to claim aloud for fear of judgment. Every once in a while, one of those poignant moments of sharing knocks the breath out of me and I am at a loss for words – because words cannot heal some hurts.
Although I experience the depth of humanity more regularly than some, we all have the opportunity to do the same with our family, friends, and neighbors. As the duration of this pandemic lengthens, I have been wondering if we all might need to start taking our own cups for sugar around the neighborhood (masked and socially distanced, of course), offering the opportunity for others to share their hurts, their sorrows, and perhaps their own struggles to see God. Once we begin to see the wideness of the human condition, we also see how we are not alone. Our cups of sugar then become not just gifts for ourselves, but for others too.