There’s a thrift store I frequent in the little town of Felton CA. In this one stoplight town, in a barn-sized store, at a square counter, works a woman. At first glance she is unremarkable. She is pleasant looking, but not beautiful. She is older, but not old. She is smart, but not genius. Unremarkable.
Except by me, who is about to remark on how very remarkable she is.
Everyday she stands at her post helping people, checking them out with their purchases, showing them the discarded treasures in the glass countered case, directing them to the location of a desired or hoped for item. It’s all second hand stuff, and most of the people who come here do so because they can’t afford to go anywhere else. Some of us could, but prefer reusing and recycling the endless hoards of things that flow through our lives, or we prefer hunting for treasures to the instant but empty gratification of ordering on line. We like the personality of things that have been gently used and loved by others. There’s something special about reading a book and finding a notation in the margin calling attention to a particularly poignant phrase or startling fact. I especially love when people look up a word they don’t know and scribble the definition to one side. Vocabulary speaks volumes. I guess that what it’s for.
I remember my great grandmother, Edith, crocheting and knitting and quilting even at 100, binding together thread and fabric to make beautiful, useful objects that comfort and embrace her family to this day. I have two of her beautiful crocheted blankets and they are family treasures.
But some people stitch things together in a different way. They use words instead of a crochet hook. They let their actions and their empathy create their art. The woman at the thrift store spends the majority of her work time chatting with people. She speaks to each and every customer, even if it’s only briefly. Some, mostly those who seem alone, she goes out of her way to notice, especially the elderly. Calling to them by name if she knows them or asking questions and drawing them out if she doesn’t. “Did you get the water heater fixed?” or “How are you today? Are you staying cool in this heat? You be careful out there.”
The questions matter, of course. But far more important is that she listens to the answers. She ‘oohs’ over phone pictures of dogs and grandkids, she delights in people’s little joys and offers small, but sincere, sympathies, she encourages, hopes, and includes.
So today, when I was leaving I noticed a trinket in the case that was pretty, and I asked about it. She said, “It’s nothing very special, I’ll let you have it for two dollars.”
I said, “Thank you,” and then, feeling that was inadequate, I added, “and thank you for being so kind to everyone who comes in, it really makes a difference to us all.”
She pulled off her glasses, looked me in the eye and said, “I think that’s why I was put on this planet, to be kind to people from a humble place. To…let them know that they are…” she lost the thread, and I picked it up, knit one, pearl two.
“It is something to be ‘seen.’” I told her. “It means a lot.”
She nodded, feeling our smiles link together into lace, the simple words used as stiches that bind random lonely moments into shared experiences. I think she was grateful for the words, but I couldn’t really see clearly as my eyes were tearing up. Such awareness moves me, and I left grateful.
Because, you see, without people like her, those who see everyone as part of the pattern, we would all be tattered scraps fraying in the wind. All of the threads that knit together to make a community, or a family, or a friendship, would lay discarded, tangled, and useless.
But when we care, when we see others, our empathy grows. We begin to bind together, to strengthen from single human strand to twine, and on to sturdier and stronger rope, until we have a bond so strong that we can build with it, sometimes we can make an intricate work of art, and sometimes we can make a tow rope to pull a truck out a ditch, but either way, it takes more than one thin strand.
You are not alone. Why pretend there is strength in that?
Every refusal of someone else’s worth weakens your fabric, leaves you unfulfilled, another project undone, another possibility lost.
I may not have the patience or the skill to make an actual quilt, but I see my life and my exchanges with friends and strangers as a virtual quilt. Every time I stop and speak with someone whose appearance frightened me and find they are kind, I add a panel. Every interaction I notice between others embroiders another flower onto the blanket that lies lightly over my shoulders.
And when I die, I will be wrapped in that gorgeous shroud of moments, knitted together into a tapestry that was my life.
It will not unwind, it will not fade, and it will shimmer even as my memories die away with me. Only I will see this actual blanket, only I will be wrapped in it, but many of the panels or woven scenes will be shared, they will be part of others’ stories as well.
Thank you for seeing me.
Thank you for sharing your silk, your wool, the very fabric that is you.
I see you.
Shari, August 27th 2017