A Beautiful Lesson in the Art of Giving and Receiving

Today I went for a walk, little did I know that I would be taught a most valuable lesson about giving and receiving, from a 4 year old girl.

About 1/2 way through my walk I crossed paths with two women and 5 little girls who were enjoying the sights along the canal. I couldn’t help but notice the little blonde girl walking toward me and how proudly she held four goose feathers in her hands.

She looked up at me and stretched out her hands, “would you like one of my beautiful feathers?”

“Of course I would, thank you so much for such a wonderful gift.”

Her entire body, not just her face, lit up with the pleasure she felt in giving me this very precious gift.

As I walked away, goose feather in hand, I wasn’t sure quite what to do. It was clear that to her, this was not a dirty goose feather, it was magical and beautiful. Tossing it aside wasn’t an option. I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing her face if we crossed paths again and I had tossed aside her gift.

The perfect solution came to me and I tucked the feather into my pony tail.

I thought about the nature of giving and receiving. It’s become clear to me that being a good receiver is equally important as being a generous giver. This tiny girl’s face lit up the world with joy when I accepted her gift, I can’t help but think that her light would have dimmed if her gift had been rejected or ignored.

On the final stretch of my walk I encountered the group again. Tiny brown eyes looked up at me asking, “do you still have the feather I gave you?”

I pointed to my pony tail and turned around on the path, “what do you think?”

“I think it’s beautiful,” she said.

“I do too.”

She held out the three remaining feathers, “would you like one more?”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Oh yes, you need two.”

“Shall I put this one in my pony tail also?”

Tiny hands clapped and she said “yes.”

I tucked the second goose feather into my hair and turned so she could see it.

“Oh my, you look like you have two beautiful birds on your head.”

Words can’t describe the warmth that filled my heart or the smile that spread over my face and hers.

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Artist’s note: The feature image represents my interpretation of the day. Out of context I doubt it has much meaning, but I like to think that my little friend would find it beautiful.

feathers

Busted

butterfly on a pretty weed

My kids find it embarrassing when I stop to take pictures of things like a pile of shoes on someone else’s porch, a muscle car in a parking lot, or of a stranger’s garden. I think the word they use if they catch me taking pictures of a person is “creepy.”

In my defense, I only take pictures of random strangers from a distance and I don’t post them on Facebook. I like having them as a source of inspiration for writing and as a visual reminder of the many characters in life.

I thought twice about taking my camera along on my late afternoon walk. It was overcast and muggy and the day didn’t have the lighting I had in mind. I love taking pictures around sunset. I think there’s something romantic and nostalgic about that time of day. Of course pictures taken at sunrise may also share those qualities but it’s highly unlikely that I will ever discover whether or not that’s the case. The only reason you’ll find me up before sunrise is because that was the flight time with the very best price.

I stopped in front of the favorite garden along my route. There are flowers from spring until fall and I’m drawn to the bursts of color and the combination of plants and flowers that are both whimsical and wild.

Lost in thought, I focused in and snapped one picture after another in an attempt to capture the contrast of the oranges, yellows, pinks, and purples against the small sea of waving green.

“Excuse me,” called a voice from the porch.

Shoot!

My kids worst fear has come true, I’d been busted. As a rule follower at heart, my face grew hot and my pulse quickened.

I swallowed hard, “Hi there, I was ummm…just ummm…you have a beautiful garden. I especially love the day lilies.”

I opted out of trying to explain why I was taking pictures and attempted to distract her with a compliment and called out the one and only flower that I knew the name of.

daylilies

“I noticed you taking pictures and I just wanted to tell you that you are welcome to wander anywhere in the yard for as long as you like.”

Really? She wasn’t mad?

“Wow thanks! By the way, I’m Beth.”

She waved from the porch, “Nice to meet you Beth, I’m Bonnie.”

Bonnie joined me in the yard after she finished her late afternoon snack. She gave me a personal tour which included an introduction to the frogs in her pond, I’ve nicknamed them Fred and Fernando. There was a third frog, but he wasn’t showing the camera his best side.

fred the frog
Fred the frog
fernando the frog
Fernando the frog

Bonnie shared a passionate overview of how her gardens have transitioned over the past twenty three years. I had never given a second thought to how many things could impact the art of bringing flowers to life.

I told her my tale of woe and how my second attempt at gardening hadn’t gone nearly as well as the first thanks to the deer and the heat. She listened with an understanding smile and invited me to stop by in the fall to collect as many perennials as I wanted.

I think we made each others day.

I wandered along the towpath taking pictures of butterflies and what I consider to be pretty weeds. I thought and I walked and I realized, flowers and butterflies are beautiful even on a cloudy day.

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Snapdragons and Butterflies

purple snapdragon and white butterfly - medium charcoal pencil and color pencil with a touch of ink and pastel
Snapdragons and Butterflies

Today is my maternal Grandmother’s birthday.  If I’ve done my math correctly she would have been 101 years young today. I have many wonderful memories of her which include learning how to properly knead the dough, the taste of homemade bread fresh from the oven, and playing  “boutique” for hours on end.  However, the image that most often comes to mind when I think of her is one of snapdragons and butterflies.

It seemed appropriate to post an essay entitled Snapdragons and Butterflies to commemorate her birthday.  I wrote it in December 2010 and it’s one of my earliest completed pieces as well as one of my favorites.  It also seemed fitting to illustrate the post with my first solo drawing.  Although my original idea was to create a realistic interpretation of my favorite flower I decided a version that was more child-like was the way to go. Colored pencils were the medium of choice as well as a touch of pastel and ink.

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Snapdragons and Butterflies

Snapdragons and butterflies will always and forever remind me of my grandmother. Many gardeners shy away from the delightful, but delicate flower – however, she embraced the challenge associated with bringing the brightly colored blossoms to life.

I could have spent hours, and probably did, pinching the tiny blossoms, making the dragon’s mouth come to life and then releasing it.

I recall there always being tiny white butterflies dancing around the flowers. Were they vying for attention or simply enjoying the playfulness?

Snapdragons seem so delicate on the outside, but if they can survive tiny hands repeatedly pinching to open and see the dragon’s mouth, you know they are strong. Snapdragons are much like my grandmother.

Her name was Lucy, not a common name, which is fitting because she was not an ordinary woman.

She was beautiful, whatever the setting. She might be dressed to the nines for church or a social event, or digging in the garden, tending to her flowers or vegetables, a worn work shirt tied around her waist.

I was always so proud to be a guest in her Sunday school class. Her hand encircled mine as we entered the room, and my heart would pound with love as her students rushed to greet her.

Like a flower has a fragrance, so did my grandmother’s kitchen. It was always filled with the aroma of meals made from scratch and with love. My eyes lit up when I saw the peas I had laboriously shelled as part of the delicious meal.

She somehow knew how to make something ordinary into something wonderful. How we cousins used to squabble over who got the ‘special knife’, the knife that rattled when you picked it up. To this day, I like to think it really was a precious jewel, and not a scrap of metal that was trapped in the handle of that knife.

Wherever she went, she knew someone. Oh, How agonizing it was to have to stop and wait while she visited with ‘just one more’ friend or relative. Little did I know, the memory would make me smile someday.

My favorite times were when it was ‘our’ time, we’d giggle and laugh as she tucked me into bed. The ritual never changed, as she playfully pinched my chin, nose and cheeks before the final kiss goodnight.

Her spirit touches me whenever I think about snapdragons and butterflies.

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In loving memory of my Grandma Lucy. Dedicated to my mom and my daughter, the two most important women in my life, and with gratitude for four generations of beauty and grace.

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