Art of Giving

red leaf

Tap, tap, tap.

It was still early in the morning when there was a soft knock on the glass patio door.

“Don’t answer, you know who it is,” Jan said without looking up from buttering her toast.

She stood at the kitchen counter in a long nightgown and slippers, while her husband sat at the table holding a steaming mug of coffee. He perused the headlines of the news, rattling the paper as he turned the pages.

Across the table, old newspapers were haphazardly spread and stacked with colorful advertisements and junk mail randomly shuffled into the mix. Salt and pepper shakers in the shape of birds were in the middle next to a plastic napkin holder with plain white paper napkins. Her husband, Dennis, reached over and gathered the papers into a messy pile to clear a space for his wife.

“Come sit down.”

He looked over the top of his glasses, unsurprised that the seat remained empty. Jan was still standing at the counter shaking cinnamon from a spice container with an aluminum head onto the buttered toast. She risked a peek out the door and then quickly looked away, reasoning that without eye contact there was nothing to stop their visitor from leaving.

Tap, tap, tap.

She felt a secret thrill, he wasn’t leaving. The hint of a smile played out on her face as she turned to her husband for another peek out the door over his shoulder.

She feigned surprise, “Oh Denny, it’s him again. What should we do?”

He laughed and the skin around his eyes crinkled like old leather, “We?” he asked.

“Don’t you mean what should you do?” he clarified with an emphasis on the word, you.

They had to play this game, their roles and the rules were both well-defined and rehearsed. He gave his wife a knowing look that was a mixture of amusement and annoyance and sipped his coffee.

“In that case, I better give him what he wants,” Jan said coyly.

She reached for the jar of peanut butter in the cabinet and pulled out another slice of bread from the breadbox. Humming to herself, she quickly slathered the bread with a thin layer and cut it into triangles, just the way she used to do.

Tap, tap, tap.

“Oh, hold on,” she said with in pretend irritation as she balanced the triangles flat on the palm of her smooth, white palm and made her way towards the door.

Sliding the door open with one hand, she knelt down with surprising flexibility for her age. She tucked her nightgown around her legs to hold it in place as she balanced on the balls of her slippered feet.

“Well, hello there,” she greeted a fat brown squirrel with shiny, black eyes.

The squirrel twitched its nose in recognition.  It chattered with excitement and held its claws out for breakfast. Jan extended her hand towards the creature. It sniffed her fingers and looked up at the woman; they locked eyes for a brief moment of connection before the squirrel grabbed a triangle and took off for the edge of the patio, still chattering as it disappeared up a tree.

Jan straightened out her legs and back as she stood, and noticed at her feet a unusual, bright red leaf carefully brought in from an ornamental tree of a far off yard.  It was left not as a payment, but as a present.  Jan left the rest of the triangles with a smile now fully fixed on her face and took the leaf, grateful for the gifts of the day.

Here today and gone tomorrow.

Misplaced Beliefs


“Before you go, I’ve got something for you.”

Jan stood with a groan and walked towards the counter dividing the kitchen from the living room.  She moved with an uneven gait from a recent hip replacement. She had a simple mind, dull eyes, and a sweetness that inexplicably drew people to her.

“I should have finished PT, I know.”

She made no excuses but no one had asked for any. Anyways, she wouldn’t have given a straight answer if asked the reason because the answer sat nearby, frowning into a cup of cold coffee.

An oxygen machine clicked in the background and her husband scrutinized Jan with narrowed eyes.

“Careful, watch the tube,” Ted growled as Jan walked towards the counter and yanked at the clear tubing with one hand.

“By the way, coffee’s cold,” he declared with a fierce look at his wife.

While Jan emanated a bovine presence, not from her shape or hygiene, but her gentle spirit, her spouse was like a hawk circling above the field where she grazed.

“Don’t worry, honey. I won’t step on it.”

Tactfully, she ignored his comment about the coffee and smiled, “He always gets so worried about his oxygen.”

Her dull eyes did not smile with the rest of her face. They told of the sacrifices and strategizing of a wife.

Perhaps her mind was not so simple.

To hell with them, Ted scowled in his recliner.

He had other things on his mind.

Namely, his upcoming death.

He was good with Jesus now. Volunteering at the church, helping out at the soup kitchen, mentoring those kids. It was all a part of his life-insurance policy.

I never thought much of buying something I could never use, he mused to himself. There was satisfaction in his investment, soon to pay out, big time.  It was just a matter of time before he was released from his hell on Earth. This body, this woman, this condo. It was all suffocating him to death, which was fortunate.

I bet all this suffering adds to the value of my policy, he thought, as he did a mental computation on number of years of suffering multiplied by amount of good work.

In the midst of Ted’s silent ruminations, as he went over the same thoughts every day, Jan arrived at the counter.

She leaned against it and reached over, producing a perfect, one foot tall Santa Claus in her hand.

“For you. I made them with our church group. There are nine others back here.”

As she offered the gift to me, I considered the tribe of Santa’s hiding behind the counter, and Jan watched for the expression on my face.

Santa stared up at me in his perfect suit and beard with his kind, googly eyes.

Quite naturally, the eyes were not so different from those of his Creator.