Tuesday, April 18, 2006

My Best Collection

There is a boarding pass in my new thrift store book.

A man named Alex Naples flew here from Cleveland on March 14th. He must have been reading this book. The back flap of the dust jacket is still holding a place about fifty pages from the end. Did Alex not finish the book? It’s a sad story about a parent-child rift. Did it touch a nerve and he had to put it down? Take it to the thrift store where I would find it? Or did the flap find its way there, jostled in transit? What was Alex doing in Cleveland?

It seems the beauty of things is in the smallest parts. The tiniest evidence of a life. The things that go unnoticed except by the patient eye. I have become aware that taking the time to notice these details is the most rewarding part of the day. The smell of the orange blossoms on the tree we just passed. The way the light catches in the late afternoon in the uneven paint on my terrace doors. The vines with small blue flowers that stick to my dog’s coat like a fairy garland when he passes through them. I am becoming a connoisseur of the minutia of daily life.

I love collecting snatches and glimpses of people’s lives. Alex could never have known how he’d make my day by leaving his boarding pass in a book he was passing along.

Usually I do my collecting just walking around my neighborhood. Last week I saw a woman tending her garden. I stopped to compliment her on her geraniums. We ended up talking for half an hour. She regaled me with her life as told by the chronology of her plant acquisitions. “We put these in when Reagan got elected. This here was for Molly’s college graduation.” In the end she pressed cuttings from some long, trailing vines into my hands. “Clip ‘em here and they’ll root right up for you.”

I thanked her and walked back over the ridge to my side on the canyon, the vines flopping in my fingers and the spring heat. Vines that had seen presidencies and childhoods pass. Vines that now root in a pint glass in my kitchen.

Another afternoon I saw a wiry old man with papery skin tugging at his tree branches with clippers. I felt compelled to greet him. He stood petting my dog and told me about running in the ’36 Olympics with Jesse Owens and later surviving a Japanese POW camp after his plane went down in the pacific. I lamented aloud that I hadn’t brought my notebook with me. His adventures would make a great screenplay. “Oh they already have,” he assured me. “Nick Cage is supposed to star. They adapted my book. One minute.” He darted in his hillside house and returned a moment later with a copy of his memoir for me.

These glimpses of people always reveal such a generosity of spirit. Almost like looking through a keyhole at a cluttered room and seeing only the brilliant painting on the far wall. The way we touch each others’ lives in these smallest of moments. The kindness of strangers. The ability to be your true self with someone who knows nothing about you. Maybe just your best self.

These encounters create the web of human connection that comforts me when I get too overwhelmed by the big picture. I may not have cracked that character problem that’s been gnawing at my latest screenplay today but I finally met the guy who stands across the road smoking in the evenings. We’ve waved hello for over a year but today I know that his name is Adam and he is a butcher who is tired from standing all day. On a day like this, that’s enough.

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Blogger Kid Sis said...

Beautiful. Exactly my assignment in the Relationship Course this week. Talk to three people and find out something unique about them. Listen for the gold.

2:24 PM  
Blogger Heidi said...

Love that. I will totally take that on!

9:49 AM  
Anonymous David Anaxagoras said...

Heidi, I'm coming late to this post -- but wow. Enchanting and inspiring. Almost makes me want to leave my cave and interact with actual people.

11:22 PM  

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