Sunday, May 13, 2012
Presence as present?
May 13, 2012
A young woman has given me a wonderful gift. She discovered it, she tells me, in a store that sells things looking for a second—or twenty-second—home.
What my young friend found was a figure of a girl originally designed to be tucked into a niche in a garden, or to stand by a pot of flowers near a patio door. Girl is young, bare-foot, hair tied back with disorderly ribbons, and wearing overalls—overalls, you understand—‘bibbers’—not the modern equivalent we call jeans.
I’m not sure whether my friend first saw Girl standing on a dusty shelf, or while poking about in some poorly lighted corner, first glimpsed Girl half hidden in a box of old attic treasures. What is important is this: when my friend saw Girl she had an immediate sense of discovery: this was not simply a piece of the floating commercial debris thrown up by a consumer society. This was Girl who belonged somewhere, somewhere where there were flowers. And not quite sure of her wordless impulse, she bought Girl, and then brought Girl to me as a gift.
If up to this point I have told the story properly, you may be half-anticipating a Great Art Discovery—a numbered bronze from a famous sculptor’s work found languishing unidentified in a second-hand store. But in the interest of full disclosure, if you want a story with an ending like that, you will be disappointed in today’s blog. Here is what happened.
When I unwrapped Girl from the blanket in which she had travelled, I too had an immediate sense of discovery. This was indeed Girl who belonged where there were flowers. But this was more—this was Girl who had come to help make a story clear. I placed her on a small cherry table near a glass paneled china cabinet. The light from the tall lamp on the table touched Girl’s hair, her ragged shirt, her bare feet, then spilled over into the cabinet, touching the gold-rimmed plates and shimmering through the tall crystal goblets. Later this summer Girl may visit the flowers, but her permanent home is on the cherry table by the lamp.
“I cannot remember when I have had such a valuable gift,” I told my young friend. “I hardly know how to thank you.”
"But it—it may melt in the rain or sun. I don't think it's real bronze. It certainly isn’t valuable,” my friend said uncertainly, confused by what she sensed in my response.
“But it is very valuable to me,” I said. “You’ve given me something that belongs here. What can be more valuable than that?”
Girl did indeed belong, but her value lay in far more than that. Girl represented a relationship in which my friend continues to be present with me in my journey in such a way that when she found Girl in the second-hand store she recognized her value not in any intrinsic worth but in her power to help me say the story I am living out.
I think that one of the most powerful characteristics of good relationships lies in the capacity of the relationship to help us know ourselves. My friend walks with me in my journey in a way that permits her to find in an antique store bargain basement something that with great fidelity helps me know and say my story to myself. Such presence in relationship is a gift beyond material worth.
Thinking with you this week about the conscious intentionality and emotional energy it requires to develop relational presence with friends.
This week I’m asking myself:
Could I browsing through a garage sale, recognize an object whose true value lay in its capacity to speak a friend’s heart, to tell a friend's story?
See you next week.