Saturday, August 25, 2012

Gift Exchange

We have been working hard at cleaning the brown barn. When its stewardship passed to the farm from the man who built and used it many years ago, it was packed floor to ceiling, back to front, with decades of accumulated stuff--the good, the used-to-be-good, and the ugly, as well as stuff that was simply beyond categorization.

Bob took what he wanted, and I gave him permission to leave anything he didn't want.  I didn't figure he'd leave the Model T (or whatever it was), but I do enjoy poking through old junk, and figured I might find something fun. With the amount of stuff he had to deal with, it seemed kindest to not insist on an Absolutely Empty Barn.

The "stuff beyond categorization" fraction has contributed to the lengthy time it has taken to really claim the Brown Barn as our own and incorporate it into the full life of the farm. Periodically we'd sort through some more, but then the pile of "boards that might be useful someday" kept getting out of control. Interesting/non-categorizable items get shifted from one corner to another, becoming slightly more dilapidated with each move.

One such item was the bowling pins. Ten of them, regulation size, heavy,  yellowed, with the plastic coating cracking off in big flakes. Their box disintegrated, and they spilled on the gravel floor. They were always in the way, but too amusing to simply dump in the trash can. Yet I couldn't think of anything to do with them.

Finally, I had a brainstorm the other day. They are exactly the right size to sit nice and stable in the hollow tops of the vinyl fence posts of the Brown House's picket fence. I've been landscaping the front yard off and on this season, and putting in place a number of quirky ornamental items I've collected over the years, and the bowling pins would fit perfectly into the evolving theme.

So, up went the bowling pins the other day, and the Brown Barn is one step cleaner.


This evening--a Saturday--we finished up the night's work on the barn (building a lumber rack for the "might be useful someday" category) and dragged ourselves up to the Brown House for a celebratory slice of pie. B. stepped into the house a bit ahead of me.

As I started to close the door behind me, I heard a rough shout. Without stopping to think, I wheeled around and popped my head back out the door.

"Hey, BABY!" someone slurred the words nearby, hidden to my eyes freshly blinded by the kitchen light.

Not necessarily the recommended response to a drunken stranger on a dark and lonely street, but the one that came to me in the moment (simultaneous with gratefully remembering that B. was now sitting at the kitchen table) was a curious and friendly "What?" Not sure where this was going, and it might not be good. But I stepped out onto the porch anyhow, trying to at least see where the voice was coming from.

"Hey, I really like those bowling pins." Definitely slurred, stumbling over the words.

"Me, too" I replied, simply. I could make out the man now, 30 feet away on the street, silhouetted against the streetlight puddle on the otherwise dark street. Neither voice, nor silhouette, nor manner gave me any clue that I might know him.

He paused in his walking and weaved a little. "I really like 'em. Make me smile. I used to love to bowl. It just made me so happy when I saw them up there, reminded me of when I bowled..."

I smiled and said, "That's exactly why I put them there, to make someone smile."

"Well, they made me smile." He clumsily resumed his slow wavering pace. "God bless you, Sister."

And off he went into the night, anonymous.


"God bless you, Sister." A very long way from his initial salutation of "Hey, BABY!" A remarkable transformation, in fact. Why?

I have learned through the years, through many disquieting circumstances, that often a simple and fearless attitude of friendliness somehow wards off unwanted interest from drunken men. Focusing their attention to something other than me, that they enjoy or relate to somehow, in a positive way, can defuse a potentially threatening situation. And likely my attitude of open neighborliness would have guaranteed an amicable end to the conversation, no matter what.

But the vast distance between the greeting and his final benediction hints at more. I think this was another in a long series of spiritual "gift" experiences that I've received from wearing the prayer covering.

There is something about the covering that seems to affect most powerfully those of a rougher nature when they are in that discomforting condition of vulnerability and threat. They know better, but the bottle has deadened their caring to do better, and loosened their inhibitions. But somehow, simply seeing me in the covering, and being treated respectfully as a neighbor, they come to their senses just a little, just enough to recognize that they DO know better, and to choose to act on that knowledge, no matter how poorly they started the exchange.

I have given him the gift of bowling pin memories, a reason to smile and remember smiles. And he has given me the gift of humbly knowing that a little, insignificant thing I did, just as a whimsy, brought joy to someone who might not have much of it. Not just a little joy, either. Enough joy for him to earnestly shout out "Hey BABY" to a stranger in the dark, to share that joy right back at me.

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