Sunday, November 7, 2010

Wall of Gratitude

In Birdland the wood smoke and the slight chill help us welcome the early evenings and late mornings. We keep warm with brisk walking, sweaters, extra socks, hot tea, porridge (we recently discovered steel cut oats with warm pear butter), and, of course, invigorating chores. Summer rhythms are winding down and harvest season is pretty much over (but for a few lingering apples and pears that need peeling) so I turn my attention to more structural employment: collecting stones for my spiral herb garden and my wall of gratitude. The spiral already has a beginning, like a big snail next to my path, and I imagine it will take me all winter to finish it, but the wall of gratitude is just at the planning stages. Actually, I have no idea how to build a stone wall; I need to do some research. But I do know that I want a tangible reminder in my yard of the kindness of friends and strangers.

Writing these letters has surprised me in many ways. Sometimes it’s a funny, one-way correspondence. I’ll run into people I haven’t seen in a while, maybe years, and they know all about what I’ve been up to, while I know nothing of their adventures. I’m continually surprised when I begin to tell a story, only to be interrupted by, “I know! I read about that.” If I’m lucky, they’ll have time to give me news, but often these exchanges are limited by the general busyness of our lives. We’ve both got groceries to get, other errands to do, kids to drop off or pick up. We part, but the brief exchange endows the rest of my day with a soft glow.

I get surprised another way, too—by hearing from complete strangers through letters or email. Sometimes they want to offer a recipe or a book recommendation, sometimes the news of a connection with my family, sometimes just to tell me about a flock of chickens their grandparents kept, or about their family of Shih Tzus. I’ve heard from readers with stories of my grandparents and great grandparents, and I treasure these connections. Sometimes readers even offer tangible gifts, and I’ve been blessed with yarn and needles from Sue, a fellow knitter; Irises, Day Lilies, Coreopsis and green tomatoes from Nancy and Larry, fellow gardeners with plants to spare after their landscaping project; books for my son about sailing, and t-shirt scraps for making rugs from Edwina; and offers of help with chores from various friends, old and new. Our neighbors, Jim and Sean dig us out of the drifts in the winter. A picnic table and umbrella from Dave and Pam make a focal point for the east side of the house, and a semi-circle of Sedum from Gayle defines the space, while Gayle’s husband stacks firewood he brought us. I can’t imagine what I’ve done to deserve these gifts, but I value these glittering links to my community. And isn’t that what community really is? Sharing our gifts, tangible and spiritual with each other? I feel lucky to be part of such a vibrant neighborhood—both geographic and virtual. When people share these gifts with me, I feel inspired to find new ways to share. I can never really repay these friends, but keeping a balance sheet is not what community is about. Instead I try to think of ways to keep community flowing by passing on gifts of my own. Who in my life might like a little jar of apple butter? A loaf of bread? A visit on a chilly day? A story? A smile? A letter? A card? A kitten? (A really cute one at that. Come on, you know you want one.) Come to think of it, if I were keeping a balance sheet, I’d be in the red. I’d better get busy.

Share in Beauty: Pass on Peace: Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in community and social justice, and her own back yard. Her basement kittens are seeking new homes.

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