Photo and a Story from our 2008 Sabbatical
The very last thing I worked on before we left Colorado for our 2008 Sabbatical trip was to create an “Inner Child’s Creativity” game. Almost every morning of our Sabbatical trip I would pull out the “game” and make Richard randomly select an envelope, then a card. It was all by chance, so that in some way I could convenience myself that it was ‘Spirit-led’. Most mornings he did this activity begrudgingly and believe me, some mornings I didn’t even go there. (Any of you who would like to delight or lovingly torture your spouse with this activity, let me know, I’m happy to share my game.)
One morning while we were in Berlin Richard drew the “To Do” envelope. I thought “Uh-oh, this is a risky one.” I gingerly spread the cards out on the table, printed-side down these little pieces of blank paper all appeared to be the same, but once the card is turned over, then harmless suggestions of something “to do” appear. I encourage him, “Go on, choose one, you know the rules – if you hate it, you can put it back and choose again. This really isn’t supposed to be a burden.” Rolling his eyes, he doesn’t seem convinced.
When Richard obliges me in this gaming charade, he doesn’t hesitate or have any system for selecting; he just silently puts his finger on a card. I turn it over, read the card to myself and then read out loud: “Smile at everyone today.”
We actually laugh because we had already discussed how seldom the German people returned our attempts at “Guten Morgen!” or “Guten Tag!” accompanied with our good ol’ American friendly smiles. More often than not, we felt they were choosing to ignore us as one ignores sophomoric humor in order not to encourage it. This Germanic tribe seems to be a stoic people where smiling somehow seems frivolous.
So, on that day, we just smiled at everyone with the reckless abandoned that could only be attributed to silly children on some sort of secret mission. But in all honesty, it can be wearying to keep giving out cheer and get so little in return; the proverbial lily starts to lose it gild. And our smiling was starting to feel a little strained.
Wandering from the PergamumMuseum down the Unten de Linden we saw a church tucked away and, as usual, we were drawn to it. (We were always glad to see churches, for us they are a place of refuge.) This one is Saint Hedwig’s Catholic Cathedral.
As we entered St. Hedwig’s I had noticed a man begging by the door. While praying, this man came to mind, and I try to figure out why; then I realized that this man was the first person all day that actually smiled at us. In fact, he smiled at us when I had turned my gaze away because beggars are so very common at church doors that it makes me uncomfortable. I’m not proud of that reaction of trying to avoid these people. I prayed that the man would still be there when we left and I would try to honestly love and acknowledge him, and put some coins in his little basket.
It was a relief to see him sitting there as we left, smiling away at anyone and everyone who happened by him. A beautiful smile with missing teeth, scruffy unshaven face with a little drool, and he seemed to be mumbling a cheerful tumbling bit of nonsense.
I dropped some coins into his container which transformed him from happiness to joy. (How does one do that?) He motioned for me to wait while he reached down for a small rose that obviously had been ripped from someone’s climbing rose bush. I smiled at him and kindly shook my head saying “no” feeling that he should save his flower tokens for others.
Richard was already in the open area a little ways in front of the church taking photographs and he asked me how the man accepted the gift. After I shared with him, he said “Why didn’t you take the flower? That man had so little to give and it would have been gracious of you to have accepted it.”
He was right. “Wait. Give me a minute, I’ll be right back.” I ran to the church and leapt up two steps at a time towards the smiling man. Although we did not speak the same language, I communicated that I wanted one of his roses.
The man could not have been more excited as he carefully inspected each flower by his side until he found the perfect one – no two, which he gave to me with much delight. You would have thought I was the Holy Mother herself from the joy that was on his face.
At that moment, I decided if not one other person in all of Germany or on our entire trip willingly smiled at me that would be okay because I had been given a most precious gift.
A smile is such a simple act, but when it bubbles up from the heart and is given in such an honest and generous manner, it is without doubt, a gift of grace.