And Words Are All I Have

young girl wirh lanterns resized

To give pleasure to a single heart by a single act of kindness
is better than a thousand heads bowed in prayer.”
~ Saadi.

Small Kindnesses

How will we be remembered? By our grand strokes? Perhaps. But what will also commemorate us are the small and unexpected kindnesses we bestow on others.

I remember as a child of eight going camping with a neighboring family. Mr. and Mrs. White were friends of my parents and I had come to know their two children. I had never experienced the outdoor life before: this was truly an adventure. We sat around a bonfire that first night, and I was bewitched. I lived in an apartment above a hardware store: The only fires I'd seen were in incinerators. After a singsong and marshmallow roast we headed inside the cavernous tent, crawled into our sleeping bags and drifted off.

I awoke in the early hours to discover the worst had happened, the singular thing I lived in wretched fear of throughout my childhood. I had, quite simply, wet my sleeping bag. Oh, not simply wet it: Think garden hose. Think Victoria Falls.

There are few things more desolate to a little girl than lying fully awake in the dark in the company of relative strangers, all who are sleeping soundly, her sleeping bag sodden, scared to move a muscle in case someone might suspect.

An inveterate bed-wetter as a child, I can still remember how torn I was when asked by friends for sleepovers. Should I, shouldn't I? Would this be the night the floodgates let loose on a friend's unsuspecting 900-count bed linens? How could I face them afterwards? And what if they talked? Come to think of it I don't quite know why I agreed to this camping trip, except that now and again you just decide to shoot the moon.

As I waited for dawn to arrive, I listened to the forest sounds about me, trying to figure a way out of my dilemma with some shred of dignity intact. Everyone would know. And I had worked so hard at seeming grown up around my two new older friends. The temperature dipped steadily as the hours ticked by, adding to my list of worries. Would I have to be physically chipped out of my saturated enclosure because it had turned into a solid block of ice?

When my tent-mates finally began to stir I feigned sleep, feeling ridiculous and small and overwhelmingly homesick, wishing I could be transported to a parallel universe. I considered several options, a couple even within the realm of possibility. I thought about rolling the bag up and running with it headlong into the forest behind the campsite, shrieking, claiming that a rodent the size of Sephora's flagship store had crawled inside it overnight.

It's a trifle easier for bed wetters now: Kids today can rely on trusty "pull-ups," with saturation levels akin to deep sea sponges. This is a product I would have sold my next of kin for back then, without a backward glance.

Resigned, I awaited my doom alone, in dread. It seemed like the family would never finish breakfast. Mrs. White's daughter poked her head in the tent suddenly and asked if I wanted to go for a bike ride with them. From the confines of my cocoon I begged off, claiming a tummy upset. "I'm sure I'll be okay later," I said, trying to sound buoyant.
Once they'd left I unzipped myself from the crime scene, got dressed, hid the grim evidence as best I could, and went out to meet my fate. Mrs. White had stayed behind and was clearing the breakfast things. I approached her cautiously: I had no idea what to expect. I did not know the woman very well.

She turned toward me, happy to see that I had finally surfaced.

"Good morning dear," she chirped, warmly. "How are you feeling?"
I had to tell someone, I realized, my heart sinking.

"I've had an accident," I blurted out, trying not to cry.

"What is it?" she said, rushing over to me and gathering me in her arms. "What's wrong?"

"My sleeping bag: I've ruined it," I squeaked, unable to hold back the tears and simply letting them pour forth.

Without missing a beat, she said, "Not to worry," and squeezed me tighter. "It's past time they had a good cleaning anyway. Let's bring them all out and give them a hose down."

I did not need to be asked twice. I broke a land speed record gathering up all the bedding and piling it outside.

By the time the others returned all five of our sleeping bags were blowing in a strong breeze on the wash line we'd rigged up. Mine looked no different than the others: I was exultant.

That night when I crawled into my now-pristine sleeping bag I discovered that inside was a thick plastic sheet atop a cotton one. The next morning and for the three following it I was dry as a bone upon waking. Mrs. White never mentioned the incident again.

As I write this I can't recall exactly what Mrs. White looked like or whether I ever saw her again, but I will never forget what she did for me that sun-drenched summer morning so long ago.

(Photo courtesy of Polly Chandler.)

A Sad Child

~ Margaret Atwood

A Sad Child

You're sad because you're sad.
It's psychic. It's the age. It's chemical.
Go see a shrink or take a pill,
or hug your sadness like an eyeless doll
you need to sleep.
Well, all children are sad
but some get over it.
Count your blessings. Better than that,
buy a hat. Buy a coat or pet.
Take up dancing to forget.
Forget what?
Your sadness, your shadow,
whatever it was that was done to you
the day of the lawn party
when you came inside flushed with the sun,
your mouth sulky with sugar,
in your new dress with the ribbon
and the ice-cream smear,
and said to yourself in the bathroom,
I am not the favorite child.
My darling, when it comes
right down to it
and the light fails and the fog rolls in
and you're trapped in your overturned body
under a blanket or burning car,
and the red flame is seeping out of you
and igniting the tarmac beside your head
or else the floor, or else the pillow,
none of us is;
or else we all are.
Margaret Atwood

She died not from thorns as one supposes,
she died instead from lack of roses.

Author Unknown

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