At the top of Old Indian Road, extravagant love was cultivated amidst the orchards of the Hudson Valley. Neighbors would wake up to bushels of fresh picked apples, peaches, and cherries sitting on their doorstep. And Aunt Millie and Uncle Hart, would somehow find the hurting and broken, the downtrodden, and bring them into their oasis to heal. We lived there four years, and those years would take all the trauma that I had experienced prior and even years later; and they would fuel hope, that there is a better way. I know there is, because I have seen it, I have lived it, experienced it, felt it reach down to the deepest parts of my soul and pull out the muck and rot to reveal something new; something whittled and pieced together with the care of a thoughtful craftsman.
One Christmas, John came to eat with us. All that I knew was that he didn't have a home, and he'd heard about my siblings and I, and was bringing gifts that we were to be grateful for. I wasn't sure what kind of Christmas gifts a homeless man gave, but at the ripe age of 9, gifts still meant gifts!
After the meal, we huddled in the living room with the wood stove piping in loads of heat that our winter clothes felt excessive. John wasn't what I had expected. He had a white groomed beard, and wore a ribbed turtleneck sweater and rather looked like a refined professor of philosophy. John was elaborate in his gift giving. Everything had a story, and it was to be experienced...and in my youthful narrow-mindedness, I only had eyes on what gift he had for me. His talking was tedious, while my greedy little hands wanted to tear open the wrapping paper to my gift.
And then it was my turn. A flat rectangular piece, no thicker than a centimetre; whatever it was, I was beginning to lose excitement. He stopped me before I tore it open, and told me there was a note that he wanted me to read inside of it; "I want you to read all of it". Hesitantly, I peeled the paper back, eagerness turning into the dread of what was beginning to sound like a homework assignment on Christmas break.
It was a composition notebook, the black and white marbled kind that most of us who've gone through school probably have a selection of, full of big sloppy letters and sentences that our teachers made us write in over and over again. If you know me, you know I struggle to hide anything; usually my eyebrows give me away and this was at a time prior to my grooming the forests that topped my blue eyes; so there was more to express! Begrudgingly, I read the letter. A letter that I wish I had kept, a gift that I wish I had cherished. This man didn't know me, and it was clear that he had little of his own. In my foolishness, I didn't appreciate the gift, the words written with care and thoughtfulness; intended to improve my view of life, to pour blessing onto me, a stranger. I don't recall all that the letter said, it was lengthy. But I recall this request, he said "Caroline, I want you to write down everything. Words are important. They shape us, and they grow us. Write down everything."
My siblings had gotten toys from this intriguing man without a home. I got a notebook. And I can't help but wonder if he was an angel who knew me better than I knew myself. Because of the childhood abuse I experienced, I spoke very little, measuring my words with precision; which wrong word would set off a rage, and which would soothe a seething monster. Writing was my outlet. Writing is where I would take my soul, the aches and crippling pains, and the joys so great that my heart might explode, and I would find a release as something deep within demanded to be expressed. I wrote poems of adoration, broken dreams, and simply letters to those I loved, or words that without understanding needed to be put to paper. My private writings were somewhere that I could speak without fear of violent repercussion.
I have notebooks and scrap paper all over. I am rather disorganized. Perhaps John knew something that I didn't know, something about a little girl whose thoughts although measured would be fast and furious; thoughts that until pen was put to paper would feel like an aimless buzzing. He taught me something about thoughtfulness. The effort he put into writing those pages of encouragement to a stranger, was no small feet. In a world where things are fast, he encouraged me to slow down. He taught me that extravagance isn't tied to a price tag, but flows from the heart.
I wish that I could say that today John is doing well. I don't know where he is or even if he is still alive. Or maybe, just as he stepped in and left a memory on my heart decades ago, just maybe he is tucking in his wings and visiting another person. Without trumpets, appearing quietly in someone's life to drop a blessing they may not see for years to come, and disappearing into the background while God weaves the handiwork of man and angels into something of beauty and restoration.