The scarf

My car trunk is brimming with things I don’t need.

My baby is no longer a baby.

My house is cluttered.

My neck is bare on this blustery morning.

I’m on my way to purge the trappings of a babyhood gone by.

Along the way I meet a woman with a beautiful scarf.

It is so beautiful I stop to tell her how much I like it.

So she unwinds it from around her neck, unfurling its swirled colorfulness. It’s like a great butterfly flapping about  in this autumn landscape.

Keep it, she says.

Oh, no, I couldn’t, I reply.

You must have it, she insists, it complements your dress.

We dance this way a few times before I lift it from her open hands.

An unexpected outcome.

Awkwardly I cradle its cottony softness. I listen as this woman tells me the story of the scarf.

She created it and many others. She sells them.  She has so many scarves, giving one away is nothing.

What’s your craft, she asks, because these days it seems everyone has some special gift.

I’m not sure yet, I admit.

We part with a handshake and a promise that I will visit her store. As I walk to my car I slip the wings of turquoise, indigo and emerald  over my shoulders. The colors caress my neck and cheeks as the wind tugs the scarf’s fringed ends.

On the way to the community outreach center in a scrappy part of Detroit, I steal glances of it in the mirror while stopped at red lights.

As I heft the stroller, car seat, safety gates, and bags of odds and ends onto the curb, the wind slaps my hair and face. I pull the scarf tighter around my neck, up to my chin.

It’s not that I needed another scarf. I have a closet full, a veritable rainbow of neck coverings. But I don’t have a scarf like this one.

This is an extravagance. This is a serendipitous scarf.

I start thinking about giving spontaneously. It’s one thing to hand off used items to charity. It’s quite another to relinquish something new and hand-made. I consider the idea that I am free advertising for her work. I also acknowledge that I meet creators of  beautiful things all the time and I don’t walk away with freebies.

I think some more about how much easier it is to give than it is to receive. Or is it the other way around?

It’s hard to receive randomly, to quiet the barrage of inner questions that follow the gifting moment.

I wonder what of mine I will give to a stranger.

My trunk is empty.

My heart is warm.

My mind is racing.

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Random act or publicity stunt?

By Heath Brandon via Creative Commons

When you witness something are you really seeing what’s going on?

The other day I was walking  a brick path lined with wooden benches. Perennial gardens and low shade trees flank the walkway, which connects a library, courthouse, municipal offices and a veteran’s memorial. Rising above all this is a bronze sculpture encircled by a splashy water fountain. It’s a peaceful, pretty area generally populated by teen boys rumbling around on  skateboards, seniors parked on benches, and children chasing pigeons. It also has a lot of homeless people.

On this day, the walkways were empty. As I followed the path, supervising Girl from the East’s balancing act on the garden wall, I noticed an attractive, well-dressed man walking toward us at a brisk clip. His mouth threatened a smile. His eyes and whatever story they might tell  were hidden behind dark glasses. He balanced a cardboard pizza box on one upturned palm. Mr. Well-Dressed passed us, turned and leaned over a white-bearded homeless man slouched on a bench. The pizza box exchanged hands. Mr. Well-Dressed  — was he a lawyer from the courthouse or one of the local business owners on a break — crouched to get at eye level with Mr. Homeless and began talking to him in a low voice.

At this point my attention shifted to Girl from the East, who was attempting a jump off  the wall. But I couldn’t get Mr. Well-Dressed out of my mind. It wasn’t his looks or his clothing. It was what he did. It really moved me.

When I worked in this town years ago, my co-workers and I occasionally (and by that I mean rarely) would leave food offerings on benches and in doorways. Generally it was a bag of bagels or takeout leftovers. I’ve never had the courage to hand food directly to someone on the street.

I looked back at the two engaged in quiet conversation. I tried to read body language. I tried to eavesdrop. Was this a random act? Did this guy pick a different person each week or each day to feed? Did the two strike some kind of deal earlier? Was this an attorney-client thing? Why the heck was I obsessing as usual about something that did not concern me.

As I walked toward my car, a breathless woman clutching a cell phone caught up to me.

“Did you see? It’s him, isn’t it?” she asked.

“Who?”

“That GUY! The one who just gave a pizza to the homeless man. He was on ‘The Sopranos.’ I can’t think of his name,” she said, clearly hoping I’d jump on her bandwagon.

“I never watched that show,” I said, shrugging and beginning to feel like I was on one of those candid camera shows.

I looked around for Mr. Well-Dressed. His good deed completed, he was now heading toward  the parking lot. Pinstriped lawyer? Incognito actor on a personal mission?  Weird set-up for ‘Punk’d’?

Ms. Enthusiastic was still going on about ‘The Sopranos.’  She said something about a cop show in Detroit. I shook my head, told her I really had no idea who he was.  Then she was off to follow Mr. Well-Dressed to his car.

I went home. I Googled. I looked at pictures online. I think Mr. Well-Dressed really was Mr. Actor Guy.

Maybe.

I’d like to think I witnessed something random and kind. I’d like not to think of this as some celebrity sighting, something that made its way around Twitter or Facebook. I don’t like the creeping cynicism that poisons my thoughts.

When you see something happen, do you really know what you’re seeing?

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