WorshipWeb: Braver/Wiser: A Weekly Message of Courage and Compassion

A Village of Strangers

By Laura Shay

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”
—Albert Schweitzer

I’m fortunate to work in an inpatient hospice that permits family to be at the bedside during this pandemic. Even though the allotted number of family members has been markedly reduced, I’m grateful for the special presence only a loved one can bring. At times, the small facility seems too quiet. I miss the way things were before Covid-19, and reminisce about a special week in 2018.

For some families, Christmas can bring out the worst in them as they gather together once a year. This was not the case with these families. They were not just tolerating each other for the sake of the loved one dying; they were there for each other in the truest sense. There were ex-wives who quietly sat by the bedside; estranged children from second marriages; and grandchildren gathered in the common area by the fireplace.

On a nest of straw and holiday tinsel three white paper stars, or Froebelsterne, are nestled.

One crafty daughter chose to deal with the stress by teaching people how to make beautiful paper stars. Day by day, each room had a new large beautiful star hanging from the window latch. Each star had a story, infused by the memories that flowed from the mouths of the creators.

The common area became a field of stars, and an integrated sacred space. Lutherans, Catholics, Methodists, Jews, and non-religious people sat in clusters, new connections, hearing wonderful stories for the first time. Tears and laughter, teatime cookies and finger sandwiches. All waiting; knowing that soon the members of this tiny village of strangers would be leaving. Who will be the first to go? Who will be the last to go? If only it could happen at the same time. Not wanting to be first, hoping to be last. Wanting one more day. Determined to stay even if everyone else is gone.

When I returned the following week, the tiny village of strangers was a thing of Christmas past. The common area was filled with new strangers. I missed that tiny village of strangers. Thankfully, the star made for the staff still hung prominently in the nurse’s station, reminding us of that special Christmas week when the world felt a little more peaceful.


May we continue to find ways to connect while keeping safe this holiday season. May 2022 find our physical spaces refilled with the special energy that often comes from perfect strangers. Amen and may it be so.

About the Author

Laura Shay

Laura Shay (she/her/hers) is a chaplain in an inpatient hospice facility in Maryland. She is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Rockville (MD) and the co-leader of their Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship. She and her wife of 35 years enjoy yoga, hiking, biking and...


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