Gary sidled the car up to the curb and I hopped out with an armful of books to return to the library. Sadly I saw the “closed” sign on the door – signs of the times in a budget crisis. No browsing today, I sighed.
As I began to take the steps I noticed a woman seated on a lower step, puffing her last few puffs of a cigarette, a bulging bag of books at her side. Her red wool coat and knitted cap commented loudly on the brisk day forecasting snow in some parts – strange times; strange seasons.
As I journeyed up to the library door the red-coated woman called out to me, “Do you work here?”
“No,” I replied cheerfully, “Just returning some books.”
She turned back to take another puff, ending our discourse abruptly.
I skipped up the stairs, opened the low-tech flap in the door and added my books to the burgeoning pile, taking great care to toss the dvd safely to the side despite the sign asking that I refrain from putting dvds through the slot. My conscience pricked me a bit, but the poor hours offered these days make dvd returns a hit-and-miss thing – so I risked it. I let the flap fall and turned to hop down the steep “historical” steps back to the comfort of my vehicle and on to my program of daily doings.
“Hey,” the stoop-sitting woman called out.
She stood up.
She reached out, laying her hand gently on my shoulder. She looked full in my eyes.
“You look pretty today,” she said softly.
I looked back into her deep dark eyes. I can’t even recall the color but I do recall the spirit. I saw the need . . . the cry . . . the loneliness of a “special one” needing to connect in a world that confuses them.
“Thank you,” I smiled, “You look lovely today, as well. I just love your red coat . . .” but my words caught in the breeze and flew away as the wall went up in her eyes. She turned and shut me out. She was gone though she stood right before me. I ached to reach out and embrace her but I knew I was not welcome.
Having an autistic son – living and loving and nurturing one so precious, and so different – has taught me much about leaving off judgments and trading “norms” for precious gifts in the moment; about casting off my expectations in favor of unscripted epiphanies of truth and love: The kind of love that Jesus bids us share liberally with our neighbor; the kind of love that special people give so unexpectedly, so freely, so easily . . . though in brief windows. The kind of love our world desperately needs.
I’ve learned the UNexpected gifts catch you by surprise and must be grasped and held dearly in the heart, for they may never ever come your way again. Like Jesus’ mother, Mary, I have become a font of stored up memories to be pondered over and over. Another sweet gift just splashed down in a surprise moment. My heart reached out and clutched it quickly. It shall not escape unnoticed in a busy world. It matters. She matters.
Why this woman broke through her safety zone and touched me, I shall never know; but I do know the value of such a gift! It doesn’t matter that she shut the door as soon as I tried to return the sweet gift. It doesn’t matter that she will have no recall of my face or our little exchange the next time I pass her on the street. It doesn’t matter that I cannot inform her that she awaits an open door at the library that will not come this day. What matters is that we touched and our eyes locked and we shared a moment of life this day.
I shall never forget what she will not remember: We trod the same path for just a brief moment and I glimpsed her heart – the place she REALLY lives. Did she glimpse the REAL me? I hope so . . . the tear on my cheek testified that my heart stored yet another special incident of love to ponder the rest of my days.
“What’s going on?” Gary asked as he shifted and moved away from the curb. “Do you know her?”
“I do now,” I replied.
* * *
My Sweet Son, Matthew