Monday, September 17, 2012

Guess Who

We recently borrowed the classic game of Guess Who from the York Toy Bus, and for the past five days our house has become a veritable Guess Who Tournament Locale--which has, of course, caused me to see life through the paradigm of Guess Who. And guess what?

There are an awful lot of wonderful, kind, generous, and compassionate people all over the place--from the sidewalks here in York where Tyler and Jen and I travel (read: where we also sometimes feel kind of like aaahhh, no more sidewalks, give us something that moves fast and gets us places in less than a forty-minute walk) to the hometowns of Windsor and Sandwich where we each grew up.

In Guess Who--in case you haven't played in twenty-five years (which was my guess-whoish-gap), the object of the game is to discover your opponent's chosen person (Hans, Stephanie, Daniel, so on) by asking a series of yes or no questions. Each time you learn more information, you close the tiny little doors to cover up more people who don't fit the bill. As Tyler is still three, the game goes more like this:

Tyler: Who is the person you chose?

Daddy: I chose Hans [a perennial favorite of mine].

Tyler: Oh, okay, now let's guess who your person is! Does your person look like this? [points to Hans]

Daddy: Yes!

Tyler: Oh, cool! Now let's try to guess all the other people!

In transferring the wisdom of Guess Who to the bigger game of life, there are days when gratitude is so immense for the people who wait with gaping smiles behind so many doors.

People like Joan, an 82-year-old woman who lives one street away from us, whom Tyler and I see almost every day as we walk to the swings. Joan is often accompanied by her fraction of a dog, and she greets Tyler and I smiling. We stop and talk for five or ten minutes about the weather, about what York used to look like forty years ago--when she and her husband first moved her--and about how she doing since her husband died five months ago. Joan is a warm person who loves watching Tyler be, well, Tyler, and it's hard to fight for joy since her husband passed, but Joan wakes up every day and tries.

People like Ian, a 55-year old man who works at the Co-Op across the street and whose white-gray beard hangs almost low enough to act as a secondary broom. Ian smiles wide and talks like talking is what matters in life--asking how Tyler likes pre-school, sharing wisdom from his own years parenting two daughters, and describing the lovely places of York he recommends we visit.

People like Tom (who, when he first told me his name, I mistook for "Tub" and called him that for far longer than I should have), a man who own a small plot of land near the River Ouse and keeps hens, grows raspberries, and keeps bees to make divine honey. Tom isn't much of a talker, but he'll let Tyler bring home a fresh egg or two, taste some perfectly-ripened raspberries, and show Jen and I and Tyler his bee-keeping getup with a wide smile. Tom's wife, Maureen, once gave us two sunflowers and they grew taller than Tyler.

These people--and many more like them--I find on the good days, when the writing is going well and Tyler is behaving and sleeping at night, and it isn't raining cats, dogs, and alligators. And that's cool. But when I find these people in my path on the hard days--when Tyler has been up coughing or with nightmares, and the umpteenth rejection of a certain manuscript becomes an excruciatingly heavy load to bear, or when finances just seem too tight if we can't go for that cup of coffee I was craving...then seeing these people matters even more.

Because in the moments when little makes sense, and little feels secure, or when little things just feel, well, BIG--then seeing people like Joan, Ian, Tom (Tub), and Maureen--it becomes the difference between hope and despair.

And when--in those quiet, contemplative moments--I zoom out on life a little, and look across it rather than into only the turf I'm standing on, I see that these kinds of people have always been there. Always are there.

People like my mom and dad, Kathy and Harry Reynolds, who had their fair share of pain and obstacles raising five boys (all of us bearing our own set of problems and challenges) and the struggle to survive working jobs they might not have loved, waking up at night for hospital visits, nightmares, asthma attacks, allergy explosions, and whatever else we threw at them: they kept fighting. They worked hard to love us with all the strength they had, and they kept fighting for their marriage, too. I watch them now--taking trips, holding hands, catching a movie--and they seem to me metaphorical for going forward, even when Life knocks you down. And their mantra to me and to my brothers is inspiring: there's a place for you; keep dreaming; keep believing.

People like my in-laws, Susan and Wendell Anderson, who are some of the most generous people I know. They open up their home and make people who come by for a party, a meal, or an overnight (or a few) feel as though they're home. This past visit to America, eating Susan's divine cooking and watching all the organic, healthy stuff that goes into it, and watching Wendell teach Tyler how to be a dentist, it's beautiful to see how they give, and give, and give.

People like librarians, who chat to you when you're taking out a book, letting you know they loved it, too, and you're in for a treat.

People like fifth-grade teachers you see after a guess-whoish-length gap, who remember your name and you remember theirs, and you're suddenly over the moon about all the stuff that they taught you which you didn't always remember or realize all along.

People who simply remind us that even though life dishes out it's fair share of pain, rejection, and foiled plans, along the way there are all these doors, too. Doors behind which smiling faces--akin to Hans--are waiting to connect with you. Perhaps with a small conversation about the weather, perhaps with a raspberry or two, perhaps with a smile that sometimes helps provide the smallest crack in the veneer of despair.

I'm grateful, grateful, grateful for the presence of these people in my life, and I hope that Jen, Tyler, and myself can be a part of somebody else's game of Guess Who. I hope that the doors we open to see despair broken in our own lives help us be the kind of blessing that hides with giddy, kid-like glee behind the doors of somebody else's turn.

Maybe, after all, Philo said it best: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is engaged in a battle." And maybe Jesus said it even better than that, "Love your neighbor as yourself." I don;t know if Philo or Jesus ever played guess who, but I'll venture my own guess and say if not, they'd love it.

Because guess what? Love matters, and it matters in the tiniest ways we can't even begins to imagine. Big acts of great love, yes, but also the tiny acts of love that might otherwise seem inconsequential. They never are: every microscopic act of love strikes a blow to the hard ground of despair. And it isn't long before the frozen soil cracks, and we find that we can now plant where we once wept.