(Originally written May, 2016)
It happened faster than a tropical thunderstorm on a humid summer day. One second I stood on a dirt driveway outside of The Barn Vintage Marketplace enjoying the crisp pine mountain air under the soft spring sunshine, the next I was wiping tears from behind my sunglasses. I had been overwhelmed by an unexpected act of kindness by an old friend, Tessa Mosser-Chase, that blew me over with hurricane force in the stillness of the cloudless sky. In that split second, I understood more about the word “HOPE” than I ever had before.
It was a coincidence, or maybe it wasn’t. My family and I had decided to spend our afternoon meandering around old things, challenging our creative reuse and recycle ideas, and escaping, for at least a few hours, into the remote mountain lives we wish we could live. David imagined himself a metal sculptor, selling his creations out of a broken down shack. I imagined myself a writer, sitting at a creaking desk inspired by views of distant mountain peaks behind worn wooden fences. Ava imagined herself lying flat on the ground in the middle of a windswept meadow surrounded by wild horses.
We wandered lost in a sea of rust and chipping paint, when we ran into Tessa, a young, gorgeous blond I’m secretly envious of due to her spiritual dedication to yoga, her fierce support of her kids and her ongoing commitment to girl’s night out. She was there with her family, too, strolling at a snail’s pace, claiming the treasures that silently spoke to her as she tried to walk past, futilely ignoring their calls.
We hugged and exchanged hellos. She was holding an angelic set of wings in shades of shiny metallic silvers, whites and grays. I had seen this very set of wings earlier and contemplated their call as well. Her holding them, however, was far more appropriate. They undeniably belonged with her.
Roughly four years before this moment, she found out that her 7-month-old daughter, Lyla, had a rare form of childhood cancer. What her family, her child, and she as a mother endured in hospital stays, tests, surgeries, treatments and years of physical, mental and emotional strife and recovery is hardly imaginable. But there she was, holding those angel wings intended for her daughter’s room in her home that includes her husband and three healthy, vibrant daughters, including Lyla.
As we made small talk over angel wings, my daughter presented to me her newest obsession – a handcrafted bracelet that called to her, which in turn, called to my wallet for monetary support. It was a beautiful work of art, crafted with a delicate combination of teal blue linen and bronze chain link, dangling shimmering beads of copper and turquoise, and a hammer flattened oval center piece engraved with imperfect black letters spelling the word, “HOPE”.
All of us in our loitering circle admired the bracelet. Tessa commented that “hope” was the word she always used with Lyla whenever they both needed that extra boost of – hope – that feeling of trust that things will get better, that intense desire for a certain thing to happen, that the cancer will go away. Without any specific embellishing of stories past, Tessa’s mere mention of this flooded my mind in spontaneous flashes of bedtime cuddles, wiping away tears with sleeves and moments of silent pain masked in strength at the side of your toddler fighting for her life.
Of course, this is not the kind of small talk path you go down running into someone you haven’t seen in a long time on a beautiful Saturday afternoon of picking. And yet, there was an unspoken human connection, an undeniable reason for this encounter, an empathy for having walked a dark, treacherous path, and ending up here – at an antique flea market holding a set of angel wings and talking over a HOPE bracelet. I know I have a tendency to read into things, but come on, how could you not?
Ava really wanted the bracelet, so I said I would think about it. My thinking about it, snapping back to reality, is that Ava needs to understand what things cost. I worry that my husband and I are giving her a life he and I never had to the point that we feel we have to be careful not to spoil our only child. I’ve swung so far the other way, that I buy her virtually nothing unless it’s her birthday or Christmas.
Tessa and I said our happy hunting goodbyes as I put the bracelet back on the shelf and broke the news to Ava that we were not going to get it. She has all kinds of fun jewelry she’s been gifted and collected along the way, all of it sitting unworn on her dresser. The price tag, all be it totally justified for a handcrafted piece of jewelry, was beyond what I was willing to spend on my whimsical 8-year-old, who would probably forget all about it in a day.
Heading down the dirt driveway to leave, Tessa got my attention as she hurried after us. In her hand was the “HOPE” bracelet. She placed it on Ava’s wrist making some comment about how she knows the owner of the store and wanted Ava to have it. I can’t recall what was said exactly because my heart was cracking wide open like a clam shell suddenly thrown in a pot of boiling water and my eyes were welling up in an immediate salty, blurry, humbled steam bath, causing Tessa’s eyes to well up, too.
This was not just a gift. This did not warrant a simple thank you. This was the kind of gesture that enlightens your spirit. The kind of generosity that comes from the core of human understanding of what life is really about. The kind of understanding you can only see when you’ve faced loss so great, your heart becomes pure and your mission becomes gratitude. This was the spreading of love and the selfless sharing of the one thing that resonated with her in that moment – and many moments before – hope.
Maybe none of that was her intention. Maybe it was simple impulse. I don’t know what may have inspired her to perform such a random, unexpected, uncommon act of kindness for my girl. All I know is that in that instant, I learned how to be a better person. I was humbled by her spirit of giving. In that instant, I saw an example of how to share love without fear or expectation. In that simple act of kindness, I saw gratitude for living. I saw what hope – that feeling of trust, that desire for a certain thing to happen – looks like.
If I had simply said yes to Ava and bought that bracelet for her, it most certainly wouldn’t have the meaning it now does. This bracelet is precious because it was gifted by a beautiful giver encompassing a lioness spirit with something to teach us all. It will dwell in a safe zone, far removed from the overlapping intertwined pile of beads and metal that make up Ava’s other bracelets – namely, my room. She will be allowed to borrow it like a book from the library, and return it after it’s been worn. It will serve as a reminder to me, for now, and to Ava as she grows old enough to understand, that we must endure what we think we cannot, that we must still believe even when we want to give up, that we must be present often enough to feel the purity of gratitude, and that there is immense love and power in the sharing of HOPE.