I AM NOT SURE I HAVE experienced anything as moving, and possibly as weird as receiving this picture from a stranger earlier this year . It was sent to me through FACEBOOK by a young man who simply goes by the name FLOWER POWER. Mr. Power was in a Paris subway station when he saw a young girl and her father, Syrian refugees, in need of assistance that, in all the bustle, no one was giving them.
The details hardly matter. 2016 was an odd year. Largely due to the death of my mother, 2017 came with a shadow over it. By the time I heard from Mr. Power, I was in a state of seethe, a kind of grumbling blue. Oddly, by some quirk of web velocity, by which words speed across continents, he was familiar with a popular quote from one of my books, and thought if he could have it printed on a sign and give it to the girl to hold up, maybe someone would respond and help her and her father.
He did just that, then took the picture you see above and sent it to me along with the details. In spite of his kindness, my first response was something like "Here we go again." This particular quote from my first book, To Love Is Christ, had seen a lot of movement on the internet, and yet it was as if it were anonymous, spun out of the air, without an author. One enterprising soul had it printed on cups, bags, tee-shirts, and again, without my name (or a paycheck) attached.
Then I read the story F Power wrote me, and took a second look.
It was like a cold slap. Not hard, but sufficient. I wasn't sure what to think at first. I still scratch my head on occasion. But in time I felt the first movement of life again. Follow the narrative: boy has good heart, leads decent life, helps people, or tries to. He encourages and comforts where he can, and with his usual all-or-nothing approach to almost everything. Boy gets derailed somehow and is not sure how to get back, or if he even wants to. He's too smart to con himself, to utter a few warm and magic words, or sing a song. He has thrown off too many pretensions to go back there again or take on new ones.
Then he finds a message in a bottle, written with startling, if not annoying detail.
I may be overstating it, but staring at the hopeful face of a little girl holding up a sign with my words on them suggested something—that I am not alone, that none of us are really alone, that words have power, and range, that divinity stalks where it will, and in whatever form it will, and will say to me (and you) whatever it wishes to say at the moment it wishes to say it. Did I resume my old life, or reengage all my old pretensions? No. Did I regain a little clarity, in a sense reclaim some part of myself? I think so.
I remain grateful to FLOWER POWER, whoever you are, to Zaynap, the little Syrian refugee, the oracle-child, to an enchanted Paris, a bustled subway, and for not knowing I existed. I needed, as we all do at times, something with buoyancy, something to bring me to the surfaces again, to quiet this troubling inner monologue. That it was my own words migrating back to me from across the world, gave them power and charm over me and made them stick.
I am certainly not saying I have arrived. That is laughable. Or that I am back in some former groove with new polish. Nor do I boast or make some empty claim. I will say this: somebody is listening. Someone is paying attention. This optimism I feel is refined, trustworthy.
I don't know what happened to the little girl. I assume her place in this narrative suggests someone is paying attention there as well. I can hope. For me, at that moment in time, she was my angel. Her story has, in a small way, been memorialized in my book, GODSPEED (December 6 & 7). The December 6 entry ends with a question, and so will this confession.
What has this experience taught me? That the world is not so big a place after all. That words have life. That kindness has wings. That I am bound to the stranger a world away. That there is still enchantment left in this life...
The signs are out there, with your words printed on them. Not so sure the name matters. One more thing:
May all that has been reduced to noise in you become music again.
It's a sign. Godspeed.