The Stranger and the Orange Chair

Tonight at Evening Prayer we were talking about strangers.  In the middle of listening to the story of Abraham and Sarah greeting a stranger and the story of the men on the road to Emmaus coming upon a stranger, one thing came to mind.

The orange chair.

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My rendition of our orange chair. It was given away years ago.

 

In our little five-room house on Boy Scout Road that we lived in from when I was not quite three until I was nine (when we had six people living there and my parents decided enough was enough), we had an orange chair.

Perhaps I should explain this was back in the 70’s.

Orange was the old black back then.

It sat by the door to the little hall in the center of the house.  The one where the space heater sat.  The chair was upholstered in a lovely fabric.  I’m sure it wasn’t silk but it had a neat feel to it.  It was built all square and quite comfortable.

One rainy (Sunday?) night, we heard something outside.  The edges of this memory are hazy, but I know I was very young.  I remember the open door revealing a dark night, with the exception of the street light, and the rain pouring down.  And the young man who was coming into our house.

We didn’t know him.  Only that there’d been an accident.  Right in front of our house.  He had been riding his motorcycle and what with the rain, he’d laid it down right about the time a station wagon was coming from the other direction.

I don’t remember there being anyone there at that time besides him, and I don’t think it was a hit and run either.  I guess the station wagon wasn’t involved in the accident, but it was a part of the story.

Mama led him to sit in the orange chair.  He was pretty shaken up.  And hurt.  I remember a bustle of activity.  Mama went to nursing school before she started college, so she knew the basic things to do for him.  Or maybe that was just her Mama know-how kicking in.  I think she or Daddy must have called for an ambulance because I vaguely remember others coming in, and I don’t remember Daddy leaving to drive him anywhere.

What I remember most is him sitting in the chair.

And I remember what I saw after he left.

Little drops of blood.

Over the years the chair had one or another “chair cover” thrown over it.  I guess it was because of those little blood stains.  Or because it was orange.  Maybe a little bit of both.  We had some fancy ones–ones with fringe and that foam backing so it didn’t slide.

(Respect the chair cover.  Mama could redecorate anytime she wanted.  Well, when there was one on sale.  Not that she did. But she could have.)

Tonight when I remembered that chair, I realized that was the first time I remember seeing my parents help out someone they didn’t know.  Giving.  Caring.

But it wasn’t the last time.  Not at all.   And the lesson stuck.

When it comes to someone in need, there is no such thing as a stranger.  When someone is hurt or lost or broken or hungry, you sit them down in an orange chair and you do what you can with what you have to change their circumstances.  For the better.

And never mind how messy it gets.  As Mama reminded me on many occasions, “They’re just things.  Things can be replaced.  People can’t.”  And so she threw a chair cover over the orange chair and kept on–helping, caring, and making this world a better place.  (And not just by hiding the orange.)

May we all have the opportunity and heart to welcome a stranger this week.

Love to all.

 

 

Touched by Random Words of Kindness

Remember that I was mistaken as the newest family member’s grandmother by not one but two nurses? Not even Sister grabbing my hand in the midst of her discomfort and worry and her whispering, “I just must be looking really, really young today” could console me. It only got worse. I was at the grocery store on Thursday morning stocking up. Our resources had gotten a little low, and it was go to the store or we’d be eating jelly on tortillas with a side of avocado and orange juice. And Cooter, my creature of habit, was already stressing that we had run out of milk and there was none for cereal for breakfast that morning.

I stocked up on the buy 5, get $5 off your bill sale. Suffice to say, our cart overfloweth from my bargain hunting. I had a good visit with our cashier. I’m pretty sure she was new; at least she had yet to become jaded. I apologized for having such a hefty order to ring up and she told me never to apologize–that they get bored when they don’t have enough to do. Ahem. Note to the Grocery Store–KEEP. HER. We had two baggers on the case, and when they finished loading up my bagged groceries, they asked if they could help me out. Y’all, that whole deal stresses me out. With the exception of the one store which does not allow tipping, I always worry if I should or not. Then there’s the arranging of the groceries in the car. If I’m tired or hungry or whatever, it might be that only the cold stuff comes out at first, I take care of business, and then I go back for the rest. Which requires that I pack the car a certain way. So I rarely accept their generous offer of assistance.

Thursday morning, when I declined, the sweet cashier said, “That’s a lot of groceries. You should let them help you.” She then started tilting her head and staring at the baggers in such a way as to say, “Go. Help her anyway. Insist. I mean, look at her.” Yes, a look can say all of that.

I again said I was fine, and she assured me they didn’t mind, again with the head tipping thing. A little more urgently. At this point, I had been having symptoms of vertigo for a week, and I was getting a little concerned. When this sweet girl kept insisting, I was really worried. Finally I asked, “Do I look bad or something? I mean, I think I can do it.” Sweet Girl assured me I looked fine, just that it would be good for them to help, that they didn’t mind. I pointed at my “help” checking out the folding Georgia Tech chairs against the window, and said, “Don’t worry, we’ve got it.” I pushed the cart out with a wave goodbye, a quizzical mind, and a thankful heart.

The next day, after we picked up our Aub, we all went to the GW Boutique. Our Princess is not satisfied with me making her a Princess Leia costume; she keeps insisting on looking for one. They are out now, y’all, if anyone is looking–new and much lower-priced than they were originally. So she looked for that, and we made a round of the toy aisle where we look for Legos and K’Nex and educational toys. Cooter is fascinated with all kinds of weaponry, and no matter what it is, he usually asks if he can get it. And usually I say no. Such was the case this time. While they continued to look, my eye was drawn to this vanity top organizer. It had a glass base with chrome accents and two glass jars with chrome lids sitting on it. It was around $8 I think, so that gave me pause. As Cooter checked out the assorted weapons and cars, and Princess looked for all things pink and purple, I asked Aub what she thought. She was nonchalant, and I finally said, after much thought, “Nah. It will have to be kept clean. I’ll have to clean under it and wipe it down regularly. Probably more trouble than it is worth.”

Just a moment later I heard laughing. I turned around to see a beautiful white-haired lady pushing her cart past us. She said, “You’re too young to be talking like that.” Oh dear. I wondered what Cooter had been re-enacting with what weapon. I said, “Ma’am?” And she looked straight at me, pointed at the item I had been looking at and repeated, “You are too young to be worried about something like that, about cleaning it. But you are right, you know. It will be a bear to keep clean.” Well I declare. I placed my hand on her arm, and looked in her eyes, “Thank you. Thank you. You don’t know what that means to me.” I told her about my escapades at the hospital, and she clucked her disdain. (Yes, I will talk to anybody–I get it from my Mama.) “Pshaw, you do NOT look old enough to be anybody’s grandma, and don’t let anyone tell you any different.” I looked over at Aub. “You heard her right? What she said? You’re my witness!” We all laughed, and I left with a lighter heart. (and a less light head, as the vertigo finally seemed to be going away)

I am thankful for the random words of kindness from this sweet woman. She could have just laughed to herself at what I said and later called her BFF Forevuh and told her the story. And they could have shaken their heads together at how silly I was to be worried about such as that. Instead her kind words touched me and healed a wound for me–albeit a superficial, silly, and perhaps vain wound, but a hurt nonetheless. With words, she lifted me out of a funk. Isn’t it amazing what we can do when we are intentional about what we say?

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This is from one of my favorite songs ever, “Hey Jude.” Turns out it was the number one song the year I was born. I love what it says, because it is true–we can take a sad song and make it better–with a look, a touch, a smile, kind words, listening, or even just our presence. And these words come later in the song:

And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain
Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders

Good advice for all of us. Not easy, but good. And perhaps it is through the kindness of others–their words, their acts, their presence–that we can begin to let go of some of that weight.

And in the spirit of that, my friends, I leave you with this video. I love the Beatles, as Daddy enjoyed their music almost as much as he did Elvis’. He would make me laugh by calling them the Be-at-les. While I enjoy seeing recordings of their performances, this is my favorite version of this song. Because you see, it makes me very, very happy. Let me know if the surprise that comes in lifts your spirits as it did mine. And let’s go and scatter words and acts of kindness and laughter together, shall we? You never know when it could make someone’s day.