Sunday, March 25, 2012


When I was a preteen, church was all about friends.  At the time, my parents seemed concerned only with my abysmal math and science grades; my brother was the disheveled monster that grunted at me every morning from behind a barricade of cereal boxes.  Some of my friends at school were fair weather at best.  So on Sunday it was nice to be in the company of people who at least liked me.  But Sunday was also better because it meant I would see Carl.

Carl was a friend of my parent's and the father of my friend John.  He was built like a lumber jack; tall and barrel-chested with a deep voice that shook the ground beneath me when he spoke.  Carl was larger than life.  I think I would have been afraid of him if circumstances had been different.  But they were different, because Carl was a gentleman. 

Every Sunday, when I’d happen across Carl in the halls of the church, he’d greet me with, “You look very beautiful today, Miss Adams.”  Just like that.  The compliments varied, but the theme was the same.  He’d compliment me on how nice I looked, respectful and kind. It left me speechless, looking around wondering if he was really speaking to me.

You see, when I was about twelve, I went through a very, very awkward stage (some may say I never pulled out of it).  My hair was cut to an unflattering length.  I didn’t have braces yet so my teeth stuck out like prongs on a bent fork.  My nose was trying to stage a coup and take over my face (it won).  And I’m pretty sure you could have navigated your way to Pittsburgh based on the map of acne on my face.  Sometimes I remember back to these days and think, “Were they really so bad?” then I find photographic proof and I wince and say, “Oh, yeah…they really were.”

So you can imagine how a few kind words, compliments repeated each weekend, seemed like manna must have to the children of Israel in the desert.  It was sustaining.  It was a lifeline.  It sparked hope that maybe, just maybe someone saw me and not the sum total of my flaws.

I went home a few years ago, a short visit but a literal homecoming.  At church I was gathered in like a long lost chick.  One of the people I sought out was Carl.  He was still there.  His barrel had moved a little south and he walked with the help of a cane but he looked the same to me.  His smile still reached his eyes and he seemed genuinely pleased to see me.  I tried to thank him, to tell him in my halting way how much his kindness had meant to me all those years ago.  My words seemed inadequate. 

His didn’t. 
He looked at me and said, “I meant every word.”
And the twelve year old girl that still lives inside me heard him.

1 comment:

Wendy said...

What a great tribute and a beautifully told lesson.