Mortaljive: The Rest is Silence

There is no still point in all the Universe, and that is the rock upon which I stand

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


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When I was a lad of four an old man told all of us neighborhood kids to come by his garage: he would be giving away free rubber balls (about the size of baseballs) to everyone who came over. I headed over to his place when I heard about it and there was an absolute mob of kids yelling and grabbing and reaching out for the now highly prized free balls. Bedlam, chaos, social darwinism, and before you knew it all the balls had been given out, and there I was crying on his driveway, for I had failed to get one. As a matter of fact, I am not a big fan of crowds to this very day, which is why I am sitting alone typing, but then you, the reader, may already have surmised that. But I digress.

I returned home that sad day, ball-less, and somehow word got back to the old man of where I lived and what had happened, because a week or so later, on my birthday, this elderly stranger shows up at our front door with a gift-wrapped present for me. I hung back from the front door, shy, afraid, nervous and hopeful. Encouraged to see what he had brought me, I went forward and unwrapped the coolest, most perfect leather kickball in the history of civilization. In my memory I cannot see that old man except as a benevolent shadow, a smile and a thought and a saint. I am four years old, and the Buddha laughed.

Many years later I was shopping with my wife while on vacation in Lake Tahoe. We were in the checkout line at a grocery store, and a little girl was asking her mom if she could have a package of stickers. A quick look told me these were not wealthy people, and the mom tried to hush her daughter softly as she returned the stickers to the display. There was a kind of dry pain to it all. My wife, having seen the entire affair, quietly asked the woman if it would be okay if she were to buy her daughter what can be described as a trifle, a small bit of nothing on-your-way-out silliness for kids. The woman gave permission, and when our purchases had finished being rung up, my wife turned to the little girl and said, "Here, this is for you." This little girl, kind of dull and chubby, made a face that grew and shone and lit up the world, and over nothing, over a trifle. Arthur Miller might have written "Attention must be paid this little girl" and he would have been right. What really catches me is that, when we step out of our own thought bubbles and make the slightest effort, the world gushes forth as if held back by mere strands of hair.

Every gift I give is a kind of echo of that kickball I got when I was four, and every child I see is that slightly goofy girl in line at a grocery store high in the mountains, her face a golden display of happiness and wonder. My wife and that old man live in my heart because they are the ones who remind me that I have one.



At 12:09 AM, Anonymous mdhatter said...

A while ago I met a stranger, who amazingly enough was applying for a very obscure job i once held, 3000 miles away. Truly random person, each of us out of place, and 15 years in age difference. I quickly realized that the stranger would be a good match for the position (ongoing field research), and felt that meeting that day was less than total chance (the laundry day on which I was wearing a t-shirt leftover from 15 years ago), and knowing I will never likely see this person again, I called my old employers, and talked up the stranger (who felt they had interviewed poorly), and, as I recently learned, made the difference in the hiring of said stranger.

Keep putting it out, and it will keep coming around. Feed the circle.

At 9:59 AM, Anonymous beq said...

It's true. Little things matter. Wonderful post.

At 9:18 AM, Blogger Annie said...

You're trying to make me cry, aren't you??


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