Sunday, May 20, 2012

My Wool Scarf

It was a cold and blustery British day as I was walking home, way back in the mid-80s. (I was, as you may have guessed, living in England at the time.) It was probably winter, but I don't really remember. All I know is that it was grey outside and I was shivering. The day had started off fairly nice and I just wasn't dressed for the sudden drop in the temperature.

"Please, God," I asked in a very heartfelt prayer, "if there is any way you can just warm it up a bit?" It wasn't the most selfless prayer I had ever uttered, but it was sincere. I mean, come on, I was cold. And I'll tell you, that British cold really does chill you to the bone.

There I was, walking on the sidewalk, with an old wall on my right running the length of the street.

Aside: This was an old wall that ran the entire length of at least one block, but by any other standard, it was more like two or three blocks. And you know what was on the other side of that wall? Another sidewalk. Then, to top it all off, there was a door halfway down the length of it. As far as I could tell, the only thing this wall did was divide the sidewalk in half. And that door? It was locked. Why? What purpose did it serve, aside from giving you a bit of exercise by making you walk an extra couple of blocks to get around it? It was crazy. If you took that wall away, all you would have is a double-wide sidewalk. Absurd.

So, where was I? Oh yes, walking down that street, facing the wind. Actually, it didn't seem to matter which way I facing, it was into the wind. (This would make a great story for me to tell Shoghi some day.)

Moments after I uttered that extremely non-detached prayer, I turned the corner and was face to face with a rosebush. It looked for all the world like two outstretched arms holding, I kid you not, a double thick, extra long, grey wool scarf.

After taking a well deserved moment to overcome my disbelief, I looked up and said, "Thanks", as I placed that most-beautiful of garments around my neck.

I had that scarf for all of two weeks, and wore it almost every day.

Why, you may ask, did I get rid of it? Simple. One afternoon, as I was walking through the downtown area, I saw an old man sitting by the side of a building, begging for money. He was dressed in ragged clothing and shivering. As I was a poor student at the time, I had no money to offer him, but I did have a wonderfully warm scarf.

As I walked away, smiling at having been given the bounty of being able to offer him something that he could use, I said a prayer of gratitude to God for that gift I had received just a couple weeks earlier. I felt the warm sense of "You're welcome" fill my soul, and as I turned the corner there was hanging from a branch of a tree a double thick, extra long, grey wool scarf.

I stopped in my tracks. Staring. In disbelief.

And then I shrugged and said, "Thanks", as I wrapped this new gift around my neck and shoulders.

A week later it was passed on to an elderly woman, and I found another double thick, extra long, grey wool scarf the following afternoon.

Over the next seven years a total of 38 double thick, extra long, grey wool scarves passed through my hands. Why they were all double thick, extra long, grey wool scarves, I don't know, but aside from the actual knitting pattern, they were all almost identical. Every single one of them was passed on to someone who was shivering on a particularly cold winter's day, and I never had to wait more than a single day to get the next one.

While I never told anyone about this at the time, I did have to wonder at it. I still do. It was a truly magical series of moments in my life that I just appreciated. It always seemed to me that it was just natural, and that I should do nothing more than sit back and enjoy the ride.

One evening, while I was living in Winnipeg, I found myself on the bus home. The day had started off fairly warm, but a winter storm had moved in. The temperature plummeted and it had started snowing. But I was ready, having heard the forecast.

The young woman sitting across from me, however, was not. She was wearing high heels, a short skirt, a light top, and that was about it. Her arms were crossed over herself and she was, as you would expect, shivering and looking generally miserable.

But something about her struck me. She didn't seem upset about it. She seemed resigned to her current fate and just accepted having to walk home in the cold. As I unwound my scarf from my neck, I knew that this was the last time I would do this. It felt as if I was somehow passing a mantle on to her.

I handed it to her without a word, and she just looked at me, somehow seeming to know that this was more than just a simple scarf, that there was some sort of responsibility with it. She stared at me and said, "Thanks", but it seemed more ritual than anything else. What she really wanted was to ask me the story behind it, but I just sensed that this was all I could give her.

I felt her eyes on me as I stood up and got off the bus. The shiver that I felt on the back of my neck was due more to that than the cold wind that could now reach there.

To this day I still wonder who she gave that scarf to, and what her experience has been. I mean, what I felt about her could have been just my imagination, but it still feels like such a surreal moment to me, and it still feels in my soul as if that is what happened between us.

As for me, a couple days later another woman who had been admiring my work for a few years asked me if I would accept a double thick, extra long, wool scarf in exchange for a bracelet. "Sure", I said, wondering if it would be grey.

It wasn't.

It was a beautiful natural beige colour, and it is still hanging on a hanger with my winter coat.

So what does all this have to do with how I live my Baha'i life? Not much, since it began before I became Baha'i, except that 'Abdu'l-Baha does say "Be ye daysprings of generosity..."

No comments:

Post a Comment