This face


You never know when it will happen, when you suddenly receive sight.  You see something in a wonderfully strange new way, as if You are the only one, ever, who has seen it.  You feel an immediate relationship  to the object of your attention.

I remember once, sitting by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere while my husband changed our flat tire and I noticed a little flower growing nearby.  An otherwise ordinary wild-flower made exceptional in the moment.  The flower moved in the breeze and moved me with her dance.  I could almost hear her whisper, “Look at me.  I am here just for you.  You will be the one I dazzle with my brilliance in my short life time.”  I saw, really saw this one flower in this one spot in this exact moment.  I had a mysterious notion that someone had moved heaven and earth, including blowing our tire, to bring that flower and me together to arouse me, bless me, love me.

I have passed by all types of flowers in my lifetime, zillions of them.  They all sort of blend and merge and make for great scenery along my life’s journey. People are like that too.  Faces flash by on the news, in the grocery store, at the airport.  I zip by them and  absent-mindedly categorize them into manageable varieties: beggar, pilot, American, businesswoman, mother, Asian, orphan, criminal, banker, movie star.  Perhaps I smile, perhaps not.

But this one day, this one face crossed my Facebook screen and caused me to pause for a moment.  Gracefully, miraculously I could see.

Learn more about the amazing people who found and care for this child and others at Orbit Village.

Seeking and Finding

I’ve done it before, many times and I usually come up empty.  I meet someone from somewhere else and I just throw it out there.  “Do you know so and so?”

Most of the time I can hear the unspoken words behind the predictable sympathetic smile,  “It’s a big city, you know?” and, “that was a really long time ago.”

But, I ask anyway, not really sure of what I’m after.  Perhaps it is connection to my new acquaintance.  More than likely, I’m looking for connection to my past and the person I’m asking about.  So I cast my net again and again with the wild hope of catching a memory, a glimpse of who I am.

I met him at a wedding reception in Virginia.  My husband dropped me off at the door and went to park the car.  I wandered into the library of the large estate, taking in the grandeur of the space when he spoke, “I sure would hate to pay the heating bill in this place.  You know there are 34 bathrooms.”

He was a refined older gentleman, interesting and totally non-threatening.  I guessed him to be about ten years older than me.  His name was Brice.  I asked him if he’d been in this building before and he told me that he knew the man who owned the house.  Apparently the owner tried to sell it shortly after he built it and couldn’t find a buyer so he turned it into a rental venue for parties, weddings and such.

“You must be from Richmond.  Did you grow up here?” I asked.  He told me that he had lived in Richmond all his life which caused me to suddenly become an ancestral investigator, my growing curiosity taking over.    I stopped listening to him and started thinking of  a subtle way to ask this stranger if he knew anything about my family.  My mother and father grew up in Richmond and so did both sets of grandparents, all my aunts, uncles and cousins.  Mom and Dad moved away shortly after they married so I grew up in another city.  Though we visited often, I knew very little of life in Richmond and the day-to-day events that shaped the lives of my relatives.

I took a chance, risked looking foolish and offered the bait  “Years ago, my uncle owned a little gift shop in the Village Shopping Center.  There was no comment from Brice.  I tried again, “When I was a little girl my grandfather owned a hardware store on the West end.”

“You mean Kelley’s?”  He said.  “As in the Kelleys that lived on New Kent Road, on the 5000 block?  I grew up a few streets over and I knew your uncle and your grandfather.  Your grandfather was one of the finest men I’ve ever known.”

“Score,” I thought and I felt all warm and satisfied.  We talked for a while as the room began to fill with other guests.  I introduced Brice to my husband, said thank you, many times and forced myself to walk away.  I focused my attention on the beautiful bride and her groom,  the music, the heartfelt toasts, and the many friends that were there to celebrate.  Part of me however, insisted on remaining somewhere else, in another place and time when I was a little girl and my grandfather was the most wonderful person in my world.  The evening quickly passed, but the awe and wonder of Papaw lingered throughout the night and seeped into my dreams.  I woke to the smell of his pipe, the sound of his laughter, the love in his eyes.

On the way to the airport, my husband listened as I recited every wonderful memory I could recall about my Papaw.  The ring of my cellphone interrupted.  I did not recognize the number, but I answered anyway.  It was Brice.  He had gone to some bit of trouble to track me down.  He said he couldn’t find me at the reception when he remembered something.  He wanted to tell me a story that he knew I’d have to hear.  It went something like this.

When Brice was a boy, his aunt and uncle came to his home for Christmas.  Packed tight in the trunk of their car were all of their Christmas presents.  On Christmas Eve, they went out to the car to get the packages only to find that they were gone. They had been robbed.  Of course all the stores would be closed at this late hour and even if they were open they had no more money.  His family knew that the children would be devastated with no toys from Santa.  Christmas was ruined. Brice’s mother told them that she knew someone who might be able to help them.  She called Papaw who immediately said to meet him at his hardware store.  It was late at night and my grandfather opened the store (which had toys on the second floor).  He told Brice’s uncle to get everything he needed and together they wrapped the gifts.   “This is the best part,” Brice said.  “When asked how much they owed him, Mr Kelley said, don’t be ridiculous, have a Merry Christmas.”

Now, I am really touched.  I look at my husband and at the scenery passing by with moist eyes.  I receive this little bit of family history with humble gratitude, recalling how much my Grandfather loved the holidays. I remember Mama telling me that he added the toy floor in his hardware store when his grandchildren were born.  As kids we would run up the stairs in his store believing that we were entering a place second only to Santa’s workshop.  When my parents couldn’t afford it, there were toys under our tree.  Family legend tells of a time that Papaw took food, gifts and a fully decorated tree, to a family who lost everything in a fire a few days before Christmas.  He didn’t even know them.  Daddy told me that Papaws only requirement for granting permission to marry my mother was, “only if you bring her home every Christmas.”

Upon reflection, I wonder why there is so much joy in seeking and finding stories of old friends and family.  I ask myself why I would try to describe the awesomeness of my Grandfather in a blog that no one may even read.  I look to Frederick Beuchner for possible explanation.  Frederick Beuchner wrote:  Maybe nothing is more important than that we keep track, you and I, of these stories of who we are and where we have come from and the people we have met along the way because it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us most powerfully and personally.  If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but spiritually. 


The Perfect Gift

Last Monday started like most other Mondays.  Ambitions were high and I raced through my things to do list, never looking right or left but straight into the duties before me.  I wouldn’t say that I was particularly stressed, just focused.  I called the dry cleaners to clear up some confusion on my bill, put a brisket into the crock pot, looked up the recipes I wanted to bring to my daughter’s house for thanksgiving (jotting down the needed ingredients), stripped the beds and threw the sheets into the washer from our weekend guests, made an appointment with my dentist, drove to the bank, post office and grocery, went to two different places to buy Amaryllis bulbs, saving $3.00 a bulb for the extra effort, and raced home to meet the cable guy.  I retrieved as many plastic grocery bags as I could possibly hold from the back seat of my car, twisting the handles around both hands before walking up the steps to my porch.

There on the mat below the front door, was a present, an act of grace, a small gesture from an unknown someone who caused me to take a detour from the rush and clutter of my morning.  The gift was a rock, a beautiful, honey colored rock with warm marbled markings.  It was shaped like a pyramid, smooth, cool to touch and fit perfectly in the palm of my hand.  I paused.

There is nothing like an anonymous gift.  I recalled the time when I discovered one long stem red rose on the steering wheel of my car on Valentines day.   I went down all kinds of crazy rabbit trails trying to figure out who the giver was, sifting through quite a number of possibilities.  Then I thought of the Secret Santa exchange that we used to do at the office.  I was always pretty good guessing who gave what to whom.  Most of my secret gifts have come on specific holidays.  It’s exponentially better to receive an anonymous gift on an ordinary day.  I can testify that flowers sent for no special reason smell sweeter than ones sent for an anniversary (though I love those too, keep them coming).

Forgetting the groceries which were still in their bags waiting to be put away and stacked up across my kitchen counter, I walked outside to sit on my porch swing, cradling my new treasure.  I contemplated the meaning of the rock and which person in my life could have left it when Amelia walked by.  Amelia, the lovely precocious 7-year-old who lives a few doors down on my Mayberry-like Street in Serenbe.

“Amelia,”  I said.  “Do you know who may have left this rock on my porch?”

“I think it was Tristin,”  she answered.  “We got one too.  He told me he was going to give gifts of nature to people today.”

So it was Tristin.  I know who Tristin is.  I see him playing with the other kids on Selborne lane and I know which house he lives in.  We exchange friendly good mornings now and then but never much more than that.  I think my grandchildren play with him when they come to visit me.  I can’t imagine why this charming little boy would give me one of his treasures, but in doing so, he gave me a little bit of his heart.  I soon discovered that almost everyone on the block received a similar gift from said mystery person.  Was anyone else touched by this unexpected, extravagant, act of kindness?  I envision Tristin carefully placing his gifts on each porch while imagining our delightful response.  He surely didn’t expect a thank-you, his only joy being the act of giving itself.

It’s been a week now, since I found that special rock on my stoop.  We put the Christmas tree up yesterday, something we always do the weekend after Thanksgiving.  We planted the Amaryllis bulbs and they are pushing upwards.  We arranged all the Santas on their shelf and put the Christmas music on.  I’m somewhat concerned that I am just now getting to the point of pondering presents for persons of prominence.  (Well, not quite yet, I’m blogging first).  With my heels dug in, I ask myself, “what are you waiting for?”

What is the reason for my procrastination?  Is it because I hate the idea of going to the mall or spending unproductive hours searching for on-line bargains, or is it because I have bought into the idea that I can surprise my loved ones with exactly what they never knew they wanted and can find it on sale?  I’d really like to do it differently this year, give something that means something.  I’m trying to figure out, without putting rocks in all their stockings, how to pass on to each person in my family something of the truth behind every good gift.  I want a gift that whispers mystery, like the simple gift of love coming from a child.