Posted by: zhak39 | February 17, 2009

You Make Me Smile with my Heart

“No one has given me a flower,” she said,  “since my husband passed seventeen months ago.”

And Helen looked down at her feet, nodding slightly.

In bright sunshine of a late winter afternoon the chains on her jeans jingled and light made sparks in her hair.  Helen carefully chose a long stemmed rose from the bucket and slowly, cautiously traversed each walkway.

“What organization sponsored you?” and “What church?”

“We don’t go to church,” she said quietly.  “I don’t know what you mean,” in her tiny voice.

She waited patiently at each door, giving the senior within time to negotiate coming from sitting to standing, to peek out a window, to decide whether or not to open the door.  The first few seemed confused, not addled just uncertain.  I tried to see her through their eyes.  She is so serious and her appearance reflects not the latest fad but her own style of darkness and light.  I  hoped they could perceive her intent, how difficult it was for her to overcome her shyness and speak to strangers.  How important it was to her to acknowledge her respect for elders.  How fervently she wished them happiness.

The senior housing center contains a surprising forty-five units sequestered off a by-way and tucked  into scrub woods.  Five miniature attached apartments comprise each row-house.  Those visible from the entrance are parallel to each other and perpendicular to the road.  Unused back doors meet uneven ground in weedy backyards.  There are no fences to lean over, no paths connecting them.    It speaks to separation, like blind women groping forward not knowing that those they seek are immediately behind them.  Helen calls them ‘dog pounds for people.’  For several months she had been wanting to visit, to bring them something, to say “hello, I am thinking of you.”  Valentine’s Day and a really good price on variegated bouquets of long stemmed roses made this possible.  We unwrapped the discount grocery store bundles, plunged the stem ends into fresh water in a clean bucket  and hoped for the best.  They were surprisingly intact, firm buds, strong stems.

The units further in the back face each other around a central  square.  By the time she reached the first of these rows, the neighborhood network must have kicked in.   She was met more quickly at the front doors.  Her “Happy Valentine’s Day” and proffered flower were met with wide smiles and not a few moist eyes;  suspicion dissipated.  While waiting at one stoop a lady poked her head out three units away.  She couldn’t wait.

“Hilda’s not there.  Her car is gone!”

Helen bypassed the intervening houses, choosing another rose.  She left several with this cheery woman rather than leave them tied to the door knobs.  Drawn by the sounds of conversation, more residents came forward, waiting.  Helen demurely passed out her offerings with a quiet “Have a nice Valentine’s Day.”  Neighbors remained out-of-doors chatting and catching up with one another.

With a dozen apartments to go we spied a woman in the last row struggling to bring a chair onto her stoop.  Even from a distance we could see that this was quite an effort.  I suggested that Helen go right away and not keep her in suspense.  As she walked away, I thought of her steadiness, steadfastness.  She had set herself to a task that was uncomfortable for her.  She does not like to be the center of attention and here she was causing quite a riot.  I admired the way she stood up to the scrutiny from behind curtains and peepholes.  Then I noted a disturbance in one of the  units that she bypassed.

The front door opened as Helen passed up the sidewalk.  An older but not elderly woman was intent on sweeping — but also on keeping an eye on that girl.  Since her neck was not a periscope she was forced to quite vigorously sweep the door frame, then the front step, then the beginning of the sidewalk to keep an eye on Helen’s retreating form.  I heard her ‘harrumpf’ which sounded in my mind like ‘it’s my turn.  Where’s mine?’  I brought her a flower to ease her anticipation but could tell right away that this was second class.  Mine was not the hand to make this offer.  Helen had started something much deeper than we had known.

I had to rescue the poor girl from the unit she had gone to.  The resident had asked her inside and was  filling a plastic bag with small handicrafts.  “You can have this and this and this,” the woman was saying and proudly  “My son already gave me my flower today.”  We admired her flower and I extricated poor Helen who was completely at a loss under the barrage of pent up words that were pouring around and through her.

When we got back on track, all the front doors had been opened.  “Welcome,” it said to me.  “Don’t forget me,” was the message Helen percieved.  She did not forget a single one.


  1. Utterly and completely beautiful! It did bring tears to my eyes. I had just been writing a note about Compassion. Helen needs no lessons.
    Rev. Sister Khema

  2. Dhamma Greetings, Sister.

    The lesson that I hope Helen will learn is to reflect in joy as she opens her heart.



  3. Beautiful – the thought, the act, the girl.

  4. Our daughters add depth and texture to our lives. How lucky we are!

  5. very sweet!

  6. So is your picture!

  7. Beautiful Jac. I’m so proud of Helen!

  8. Wish I could be there to give Helen a big hug! Justlove her

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