Friday, March 19, 2010

"It feels like it might be hope..."

"You do your work the best that you can,
you put one foot in front of the other.
Life comes in waves, and makes it's demands,
you hold on as well as your able..."

- Sara Groves

A line from the trailer for the new Nicholas Sparks film, Remember Me, pierced through the white noise of our home, and reached me in my office from the family room, where the girls were watching a movie:

"Our fingerprints never disappear from the lives we touch."

It stopped my in my tracks.  Whose fingerprints were all over me.  God's of course.  But I found myself asking, whose hands had reached through the spiritual ether to touch my life in ways that were unforgettable.  I was still pondering that answer an hour later.  The list was long. 

But what everyone on that list had in common, was the way their touch had resurrected hope in me, when the days were darkest.  Sara Groves'
"It Might Be Hope" describes it all so well. And makes clear the power of hope, and how it can turn ordinary people, into angels.

One such person was Helen Sloss.  Helen's daughter and I were best friends my last two and a half years of high school.  I'd arrived, awkwardly, in the middle of my sophomore year and Helen's daughter took me under her wing, within the first week. 

Where I was shy and bookish, she was outgoing and popular.  She loved shopping and parties. I could always be found re-purposing hand-me-downs and washing dishes with her mom, in the kitchen, during parties.  Helen always had fresh coffee brewing, mugs hanging from hooks under the kitchen cabinets, and spoons in a large crock next to the sugar and creamer in the middle of the kitchen table. 

I loved sitting across the table from her with a cup of coffee and a deck of cards between us.  We played Pinochle, while the rest of my friends watched TV or splashed in the pool.  I liked Helen.  She was smart, funny, and loved to tell stories from her girlhood as an only child, or asking me endless questions about growing up in a family of ten...something that absolutely fascinated her.

After graduation, following a carefree summer of tanning and working at the local deli, Helen's daughter left for her first year of college as planned.  While I stayed back to help my recently widowed mother care for my seven younger siblings, instead of going off to planned.

It was a long year.  Christmas break was the worst.  While my friends came home from college to party and reconnect with high school friends, I worked day and night at one, or another, of the three jobs I held to keep a roof over our heads and the heat on.  Even the dancing that had kept my heart above floodline, had to be put aside.

Spring was characterized by long days of filing and typing, and even longer nights of waitressing or hostessing.  I was tired, bone tired.  I was depressed, filled with hopelessness and an aching void that I filled with tear-stained journal entries and reams of poetry.  It wasn't that I couldn't imagine a dream...I had so many,   In fact, it was painful to watch them wandering the corridors of my heart like specters, flitting in and out of sight. I tried to sit with them and nurture a hope or two, but day after day, it became harder, and harder, to imagine even one step in their direction.  As summer approached my mood darkened.  My friends would soon be home for the summer and already had part-time summer jobs that allowed for long afternoon naps, and weekends of swimming, sailing, and sitting on the beach.  I couldn't even imagine how I would carve an evening out from my over-scheduled work life for coffee .

One night Helen called and asked me if I had time to drop by for coffee.  I was so happy to hear her voice.  It reminded me of the carefree days of high school...before dad's passing, when my dreams seemed so within reach and I was just a hard-working bookworm who worried about grades and boys.  A time that seemed idyllic just a year later.

Within minutes of sitting down at her kitchen table, Helen had a cup of coffee, a donut, and a plan laid out in front of me.  She was offering me a summer job with the Parks Department office she managed at our local reservoir.  It was the place to work if you were in college.  A large freshwater boating lake with a marina and public beaches, it was the hang-out place for all of my friends.  And Helen thought it would give me the perfect opportunity to be nearby so that I could see everyone, and get in some tanning time on my breaks and lunch hour.

I was stunned.  First that she hadn't offered the job to someone else, and second that my summer might not be as depressingly sad as had loomed only moments before.

"Hope has a way of turning it's face to you,
just when you least expect it.
You walk in a room,
you look out a window,
and something there leaves you breathless.
You say to yourself,
it's been a while since I felt this,
but it feels like it might be hope..."

No one had ever done anything like that for me before.  And she wasn't even a relative...aunt, uncle, grandparent...she was a friend's mother and she'd been thinking about Wow...  I was stunned.  Here was someone who was absolutely bursting with joy because she had figured out a way to give me a better summer.  Did I say I was stunned?

In the breadth of a heartbeat I went from being a hopeless, exhausted, bent-with-tired-labor drone, to being a girl again.  I needed a bikini and a beach towel I could keep at the office.  Helen was ready to take me to a department store that night. I well remember the day, later that spring, when she handed me the Horn's bag containing a pale blue bikini and matching striped towel as a surprise.  She explained that she just couldn't resist, "because it will look great with a tan and perfectly matches your eyes." Well, at that moment it did match my eyes, which always seemed to look like robins' eggs when they were filled with tears.

"...It's hard to recall what blew out the flame.
It's been dark since you can remember.
You talk it all through, to find it a name,
as days go on by without number..."

Helen's intervention in my darkness was a critical, pivotal moment in my life.  She re-ignited the flame of hope and gave me back something I hadn't had the time to even realize I'd lost in the midst of numberless days.  Days when the mind-numbing demands of being too young for the circumstances at hand left me wandering in the darkness of my own fears without hope of ever finding the exit door. 

"Hope has a way of turning it's face to you,
just when you least expect it.
You walk in a room,
you look out a window,
and something there leaves you breathless.
You say to yourself,
it's been a while since I felt this,
but it feels like it might be hope..."

In the shelter of Helen's exuberant love for me, and her relentlessness in pulling me towards the light within promise, my dreams, my faith...a faith she had watched me live in high school...I started to remember what hope felt like. 

I had the best summer working with Helen.  My friends would come by on their way to the beach and let me know where they planned to set up their towels so I didn't have to spend time looking for them on my lunch hour.  Helen made sure I had a lunch every day and when I had to be at the country club to waitress later in the evening, she would let me change into my uniform and leave a few minutes early so I wasn't late for my shift.

I wore my little robins' egg blue bikini almost every day and had a bottle of iodine-laced baby oil with my name on it in the Lifeguard station for easy retrieval on my way through the concession hub, and down on to the tin where my friends were waiting.  I worked hard that summer, met all my responsibilities,
and I was a girl.  For that summer, I was just a girl.

I was grateful beyond words...I still am.  If Helen had never shown me another kindness or helped me make a life-course correction, her fingerprints would still have been all over my heart.  But at the end of the summer, when everyone else headed back to college and my life of working three entry level jobs loomed largely and menacingly just beyond September, Helen had a plan...a plan she'd been brooding over all summer long like a mother robin on her pale blue eggs...

Perhaps I will write about
that on Tuesday....till then...

Have a great weekend...and perhaps, you will leave your fingerprints on someone's life in ways they will be remembering almost forty years later...

thanks Helen,

Kate Robertson, CS

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