From 1993 to 2009 we would always get a card from England about this time of the year. Even though it would come every year, somehow it was always a delightful surprise, probably because we are always so embroiled in Holy Week and Easter rehearsals and services. The card was an Easter card from Morag Stern, a Scottish woman who lived in Bromley, one of the suburbs of London.
When Carl decided to go on sabbatical in 1992, one of the things he wanted to do was to be at Kings College, Cambridge, England for their annual Christmas Eve carol service. We were flying on free tickets but needed a place to stay in London, so we joined a vacation exchange club. We hoped to trade places with a family who might want to spend Christmas in Hawaii. Alas, the family we corresponded with backed out at the last moment. One of the club members, Morag Stern, wrote that we were welcome to stay at her house, even though she wasn’t able to come to Hawaii.
So we indeed spent five days at Morag’s house, and she welcomed us as family, fixing us dinner that first night and taking us sightseeing during our stay. We found that we had many common interests in art, music, travel, and church activities and spent many hours together. When we left London to go to Cambridge, she even gave us Christmas presents. We were speechless at her kindnesses to us, complete strangers.
From then on, we exchanged letters perhaps a half dozen times a year, and presents every Christmas. Over the years we saw her maybe six or seven times on our trips to London, including Carl’s second sabbatical in 1999. At that time, she was going to be away visiting her sister, but she let us stay at her house while she was gone! On other trips, we always managed to have lunch and to renew our friendship.
Her nephew wrote us in 2009 to let us know that Morag had passed away while on a trip to visit family in Scotland. We were truly saddened to learn this news, and in the memorial “wall” that was set up for people to write their condolences, we learned that our family was only one of many for whom Morag shared her generous hospitality.
I recently connected with Morag’s nephew through social networking and remarked to him that Morag used to send us an Easter card every year. It’s a little sad that we won’t be getting her annual Easter greeting this year, but to have her nephew correspond with us now is perhaps her message to us from beyond.
“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” — Tennessee Williams