A story of three women and the Trinity faithful


September 30, 1996|By DAN RODRICKS

To say this is a story of coincidence is really to demean it and the three women involved. So I'll do what few columnists, in our determination to be hip or hard-boiled, ever do. I'll declare, right from the start, that what we have here is really a spiritual story. It stems from a little incident on Edmondson Avenue that affirmed, for the three women involved, the power of faith and prayer. It could do some good for those who read it, too.

For starters, here's what you need to know: Millie Hartley is an Avon representative in Catonsville. She's been selling Avon products for 35 years; she has a lot of customers. One of them is a woman named Lillian Macneal. Lillian Macneal, for many years, has been friends with a woman named Sue Gutberlet.

Now let's go back eight years. That's when Millie Hartley found out she had lymphoma. The word got around. Her customers and friends said prayers for Millie as she underwent treatments for cancer. Lillian Macneal, who was a member of Trinity United Methodist Church, took Millie Hartley's name and her health problem to the congregation's prayer group.

"When I heard Millie had cancer, I talked with her almost daily," Lillian says. "I have a child with disabilities, and Millie -- she was more than an Avon lady to me, she really was a friend -- had always reached out and supported me. We had long conversations about God, a lot of 'wake up and smell the roses' kind of conversations. We had many long telephone conversations. I put her name in for prayers at church, and our prayer group prayed for her. I told everyone about her and what she was going through. They knew the name, Millie Hartley, very well."

In time, Millie Hartley's cancer went into remission. She went out and about again, selling her Avon products.

The years went by. Millie and Lillian remained good friends, though Lillian recently moved to Kent Island on the Eastern Shore. "But Millie's still my Avon rep," she says.

Now the story moves to last Monday. That's when Millie Hartley was in her car on Edmondson Avenue, driving home from an Avon call. As she drove, she caught something in the corner of her eye -- someone on a sidewalk. Someone who had fallen. Someone in distress. She quickly did a U-turn, parked her car and ran. She reached down and touched a woman she did not recognize but who appeared to be in terrible pain -- and not simply from the fall.

"She was shaking," Millie says. "She was hurt and stunned. Her legs were bleeding below the knees. She had tripped where the roots of a tree had lifted the sidewalk up. She started to cry and say she felt stupid. Another woman came from a Jeep, and the two of us just stayed there with the woman on the sidewalk until she was ready to get up. We comforted her and calmed her down. She said she had been out for a walk because she needed some fresh air to get her mind off her troubles, and that's when she said, 'My three-year-old grandson has cancer.' "

Cancer of the muscles and spine. Terminal cancer. The little boy had just started to get home hospice care.

"The lady from the Jeep and I both held the woman's hands," Millie says. "I guess she was about 60 years old, I don't know. She was still crying and shaking, and I could see the blood coming from below her knees. I ran to my car to get some McDonald's napkins to sop the blood and that's when we prayed. The lady from the Jeep said, 'God give this woman peace, bless her grandchild and thank you for bringing us together on this sidewalk.' I don't remember all of what she said, but it was beautiful."

The woman from the Jeep left, and Millie offered to drive the injured woman home. She dropped her off at her house on Brookside Drive, and the woman expressed her thanks. She said her name was Sue.

"I didn't stay long at all," Millie says. "I told her I'd stop by again another day. I told her I sold Avon. That's all. I had to leave. ... As I was leaving, the phone rang."

And the injured woman, whose name is Sue Gutberlet, answered it.

On the other end of the line was a good friend who had recently moved to the Eastern Shore -- Lillian Macneal.

Sue told Lillian all that had happened, including the part about the kind stranger who had helped her -- the Avon lady.

"Avon lady?" Lillian Macneal said over the phone from Kent Island. "That's got to be Millie Hartley. Do you remember Millie Hartley?"

And right there, as soon as she heard the name, Sue Gutberlet remembered. In the prayer group at Trinity United Methodist eight years ago, she had prayed for a Millie Hartley -- it turns out, the same Millie Hartley who, on this overcast Monday in 1996, had comforted her, helped her to her feet, stopped her bleeding and taken her home.

"I can't tell you what this has done for Sue," Lillian Macneal says. "She's amazed at all the interconnections. You can't imagine the spiritual uplift this has given her."

Oh, yes we can.

Pub Date: 9/30/96

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