Evensong Homily by the Rev. Dr. Cheryl McFadden on Sunday, September 20, 2020.
In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I think of my daughter Cailin every time I read the Book of Esther. Cailin suffered hearing loss as a result of spinal meningitis at the age of 11 weeks. The public school system categorized her as hearing impaired, assigned her to speech therapy, equipped her classrooms with FM Systems, and her parents bought her the latest hearing aid on the market to compensate for the hearing loss. Nevertheless, Cailin’s hearing was always challenged. When Cailin was nine year old she and her twin sister went to a new school. After a few weeks into the school year, Cailin came home and shared with us that she had a new best friend named Elvis. Elvis was an unusual name for a girl, even by Southern standards. Every day, Cailin would share stories about her school day and her playmate, Elvis. It was always Elvis this and Elvis that and how much she loved Elvis. After a few months, I had the opportunity to volunteer in her classroom and was eager to meet this little girl named Elvis. As I entered the classroom, Cailin greeted me with a big hug and taking my hand walked me over to meet her best friend, Elvis. After introducing us, I noticed immediately that Cailin’s best friend’s name was not “Elvis,” but Esther. Cailin went to hang up my jacket and I bent down to Esther and said, “Esther, Cailin thinks your name is Elvis and has been calling you this name since the first day of school.” Esther, smiling at me, said, “I know.” But Esther, “Why haven’t you told Cailin that your name is Esther and not Elvis?” “I am really sorry that she has been calling you Elvis.” Esther, again smiling at me said, “It’s ok.” Thinking that Esther did not understand the significance of my daughter calling her the wrong name, I said, “But don’t you want her to call you by your real name?” Esther, leaning closely to me in a whisper said, “Cailin doesn’t hear well and she has trouble saying certain words. I don’t want to make her feel bad.” “But Esther, you can’t let Cailin call you, Elvis.” Esther, with the character of the biblical figure for which she was named, said “Cailin is my best friend. I love her and she loves me and that’s all that matters.”
When Cailin came home from school that day I asked her to sit with me on the sofa. I told her how much I enjoyed meeting her best friend and did she know that her real name was Esther and not Elvis. Cailin, with a look of astonishment, shook her head vigorously saying, “No, her name is Elvis. If it was Esther, she would have told me.” I told Cailin that Esther loved her so much that she didn’t want to hurt her feelings but her real name was Esther. Cailin, with a look of disbelief, sat quietly back on the sofa and asked me why Esther didn’t tell her. “Cailin, sometimes in life, you meet people who love you for you. Esther loves you so much that she didn’t want to correct you. She knows that you can’t hear well and have trouble with certain words. You are very lucky to have Esther as your friend.
I have thought about this story many times in my life and reflected on the lessons that Esther and Cailin taught me that day. Esther, like her namesake, taught me that when you love someone, when you love people, you do what is in their best interest even if it jeopardizes your own standing. Esther valued Cailin’s feelings over her own need to be called by her given name. “I love Cailin and Cailin loves me and that is all that matters.” Esther looked with compassion on my daughter and loved her with pure childlike simplicity. No wonder Jesus tell the disciples that “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).
I also learned a lesson from Cailin and that sometimes what we hear and believe is our reality and not, others. Sometimes our perception is clouded and this doesn’t mean we are dense or misguided but that we just need to be open to a different understanding, a different reality. When I picked up the twins from school the next day, as Cailin was running to the car I heard her wave goodbye to her friend, Esther. Amen.