Sparks of Light

Putting family to one side for a moment, and perhaps even close friends, I thought about people who left a little paint on my bumper, one way or another, over the years.  Not a sustained influence, but the momentary bump, after which we move on.  Intersections that occurred and then…were gone.  Sparks that flared momentarily, but left a crucial impression.  So, in no particular order—not alphabetical or chronological or order-of-importance or anything else, who were they?

Edna.  In her mid-90s she suffered a major stroke which did a number all along her right side.  A widow, she was this little bird of a woman, a former hairdresser and a creative crafter.  Because of the stroke, she rigged up a small drafting table so she could tape or pin down her current project.  Her damaged arm worked as an anchor, and she manipulated everything else with her good hand.  When asked, “How are you?”—the usual banal question after “Hello”—she always answered with a chirp, “No complaints!”

Elizabeth.  Our Girl Scout leader, she taught us how to handle a canoe, tie knots, build a campfire, pack for a “just-in-case.”  As in, what happens if the canoe capsizes?  Will we lose everything to the bottom of the river?  Not if it’s in waterproof bags and tethered to the thwarts.  She was the one who popped cans of soda into a mesh bag tied to the canoe and dropped it overboard to keep the cans cool.  She dug clumps of her wild flowers for my garden.  When the Virginia bluebells and Jacob’s ladder come up in the spring, there she is.

Jack.  The spider specialist at my college.  I took zoology from him, and also worked for him, mainly typing up his spider notes and his class notes.  Because he was so well-liked, students were always popping in and out of his office.  I learned a lot of science, but even more important, I learned never to turn away a student.  Even if he had only a minute or two, he greeted everyone as if he had all the time in the world.  People were that important to him.

Sister Ilduara.  I looked her up, already many years ago, and found she had died.  When she was my second grade teacher, I adored her.  I wonder how young she was then; she certainly didn’t seem to be much older than we were.  When time came for the annual picnic, mothers always drove the nuns to the site.  All but Ilduara.  She would hike up her skirts—these were the days of full nun habit—revealing black utilitarian shoes and black stockings, and walk the two miles with us.  She wasn’t afraid to be one of the gang.

Arnfried.  Whose name just now resurfaced.  A generous stranger, met through the internet, who shepherded my daughter and me around my great-grandfather’s hometown in Germany.  Who stood behind me in the little church where my ancestors married, and whispered, “I, Anton, take you…,” bringing personal history alive.  Who reminded me that strangers are often good people, friends waiting to be found.

Amsterdam woman.  We ordered fries, a specialty of the kiosk, and discovered too late they didn’t accept credit cards, and we had no local cash.  She turned back and paid for our order, telling us simply to “pay it forward.”  Which we did in the remaining days of our vacation, a couple of different times.  An unexpected delight to help out others when they didn’t expect it.

This is just a sampling, of course, because there are many more sparks of light.  I spent some time recently contacting a few others, thanking them for being my own personal spark.  In times of stress especially, remembering those who helped me and taking time to tell them, is such a joy.