Today, as the light fell toward tomorrow: Teenager and I, both in a hurry and tired, her waiting on me for the mean minimum wage people now get for working hard and me just wanting to get my order and pay only they didn’t have half the things I wanted so I just gave up and agreed to take what they had.
As she turned to fix my order and ring it up, I noticed that her hair was artfully, beautifully swirled up into a loose bun on her head, tendrils escaping in the heat, an old-fashioned hair-do from my childhood that almost nobody wears anymore. Harried, she handed me my order and change and started to hurry away and I leapt at my one chance and said, “Your hair is just lovely.” And she stopped and turned back to me, looking stunned and almost as if she might cry, one tentative hand reaching for and touching briefly, ever so briefly, her hair, and whispered, “Really?”
I nodded, more certain than ever, “Lovely, perfect. Nobody ever looks that classy anymore, and it’s just beautiful.” And then she did tear up and said, “Oh my, thank you so much for telling me! You made my whole day!” And I wandered off back into my life, tears pricking my eyelids at how easy it is to slow down for one heartbeat and look—really look—at another person and appreciate them for who they are . . . and also wondering, even marveling at how nice and well-loved and fully at home that makes me feel.
It’s hours later now, and I am still mulling the encounter. She (this young woman, still a girl, still a total stranger to me) just beamed at the compliment, and it seemed as if her smile was backlit, like an old illuminated manuscript in a corner of a dim room, and I the monk (not entirely a long shot, given my hermitic nature and tendencies to go a long, long ways out of my way to avoid having to talk to or see people as well as my utter and complete lack of classiness or interest even in classiness or hairstyles and the such), having stumbled into a backlot of grace (as my dear husband suggested tonight), no longer need to search for heaven elsewhere because it just is. Everywhere. And in everyone. Not tomorrow or in some land beyond the pale, but here. Now. Always, too.
It was in the snapping turtle I helped to cross the road thirty minutes later (nearly getting snapped for my trouble, no less!), in the small aging pup who was patiently awaiting my return with his treats (some of which the young woman had provided), in the homeless vet standing across opposing lanes of traffic who managed to meet me in the middle for the few dollars I had to give before the red light turned green again, in the lovely neighbors I was gathering with to discuss a book I’d never have read at all but for them, in the bumblebee who stung me as I tried to ease him free of a cobweb, in the spider whose next few meals I just disrupted, in that young girl with the lovely tousled, uptwisted bun on her head. It was also, I understand now, in her grouchy supervisor, peering over her shoulder, clearly timing her movements and finding them wanting; it was in the lady in the minivan earlier who—seeing that my lane had to merge for construction—kept speeding up to keep us from doing so; it was in the hard-hearted warmonger pundit I heard on the radio making his righteous case for us needing to go drop bombs in Iraq again (as if that had worked so well the first two times?! I thought, but nobody mentioned); it was in my snippy thoughts about the war-hawks and the nameless, faceless, hurrying people who ran over the mama skunk and her two babies (well off the road itself so they’d have had to swerve off the road on purpose to accomplish that) or the six dead deer or the eight dead raccoons, each trying so hard and so reasonably to just get to the other side and being killed in thoughtless fashion for their efforts. Snippy me, post-encounter with the young woman with the pretty hair, had to stand down even on that. Heaven holds the living close, with death our alter-egos, each a thorough blessing (to use another old-fashioned word and concept), though seldom counted as such.
I used to account myself careful about looking for the soul in everyone’s eyes (therefore no time to note or comment on superficialities like how they looked or dressed), and then today I found out that glimpses of the soul can be any old where (including a hairstyle). And it is never superficial. So a whole new world and way of being fell open for me in those moments: I was one way before, then turned a corner and there was an entirely new play afoot to get lost in. What a thing it is to be alive, to be sentient, to be imbued with consciousness and capable of storying it back to ourselves, re-living the living and thus drawing death’s stings fully within at every step!