We received this wonderful email from a reader this week and asked her permission to share it. Her story here speaks for itself… of a thoughtful, caring and passionate woman who is obviously among friends in kind. Thank you to Melissa. Enjoy her very moving and gifted words and the photo of her friend Vada.
Dear Shelley Malcolm and Terilee Dawn Ouimette,When artists send their work out into the world I imagine that it might be nice sometimes to hear how it was received. So in that vein, I wanted to thank you so much for your book, “Real”, and to tell you how it came into my life. I thought the best way for me to do that would be to attach the email (below) I wrote to my family. I apologize for its long length, but I just didn’t know how to pare down the story without losing some of its heart.
Although your book features hands, I sincerely believe that this special book has legs that will carry its light to far reaching places and people. Thank you for that.Sincerely, Melissa
“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
Whenever I am stunned by a certain kindness that comes into my life I just want to share it with everyone I know. Remember the time I was in line at the Starbucks drive-up and when I got to the window to pay for my order was told that the woman ahead of me picked up my tab?
Or about two years ago how I nearly fainted when Susan handed me the long and much sought after, out-of-print book of poems written by developmentally disabled women entitled “Shout, Applaud”? Despite her extremely busy and stressful life, she had searched and searched for it every week for well over two years after I had mentioned how much I would love to get my hands on a copy because the poems moved me to tears.
I’ve been the recipient of an awful lot of thoughtfulness in my life but to write about each and every one would make this email 20 pages long.
But I would like to tell you how I was blown away by another act of kindness just a few days ago. First, I must back up the bus a bit and give you a little history.
About six years ago, I was working at Bayside Care Center as a social worker. One of my patients there was a 107 year old named Vada. She was just a tiny thing, looked like a little bird really, but she was a firecracker. She had a beautiful black and white photograph above her bed that was a close-up of her own hands. I absolutely loved that picture and was told that a family member of Vada’s had taken it several years prior. I asked Vada if she would mind if I brought my camera to work so I could take a photograph of that photograph. She told me to go right ahead. So, I did just that, although it did not come out very well due to the picture being behind glass.
But it was good enough to frame, and I kept that picture on my desk throughout my stay with Bayside. It never ceased to capture the attention of whoever came into my office. When I left and went to work at Cortina d’ Arroya Grande, I took the picture with me and it got just as much attention there.
My boss, Kathy, noticed it right away and I told her about how I always had a fascination with hands and that I had a dream of creating a book someday: when it is opened, the left side pages would be my photographs of someones hands and the right side pages would be the condensed life story of the person who owned those hands. That was five years ago. I only worked at Cortina for a year but Kathy and I remained good friends. We have gone on to talk about thousands of things, but the Vada photo and my dream book were never mentioned again.
Fast forward to a few days ago when I went to the post office and received a package in the mail for my birthday from Kathy. I took it back out to my truck, opened it, and pulled out the most incredible book! I immediately started to cry. The front cover was a gorgeous black and white photo of a pair of old, well worn hands and just the simple title: “REAL”. And when opening the book, there on the left side pages were photographs of hands… and the condensed life stories of the owners of those hands on the right side pages. I was blown away.
Then I noticed the first page- the book was addressed to me, followed by two little notes that were signed by the photographer and the author of the book! THEN the next page contained one of my all-time favorite quotes (and obviously the reason for the book’s title):
“Real isn’t how you are made. It’s a thing that happens to you. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
-Skin Horse to the Velveteen Rabbit
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
As I sat there staring at the book and wondering how on earth Kathy found such a thing, a folded up newspaper article fell out of the back page. It was from an obscure newspaper and featured information about the release of the book, information about the author and the photographer, etc. The article stated that the book could be purchased and signed at a local park for only 2 hours on June 5th, the day before my birthday. Somehow Kathy came across this article and went down there and stood in the rain to get this book for me. And I happen to know she was sick that day too.
Beyond being such a beautiful book, this gift moved me so much because it is a representation of one of the very best acts we can do for one another: Listening.
Is also represents something else, but this will take me a minute to explain, so bear with me. Remember the movie Phenomenon, starring John Travolta, Kyra Sedgwick, and Robert Duvall? Travolta is very interested in Kyra Sedgwick, but all she wants to do is live a quiet, uncomplicated life in the country making cane chairs and selling enough of them to squeak out a living. She brings her chairs to town and tries to sell them outside of Travolta’s garage. No one is buying them. But Travolta knows how much it means to her, so unbeknownst to Sedgwick, he buys her chairs. All of them. Every one she brings to town, he buys and stacks up in his house. Eventually they become a couple. Another character in the film says something derogatory about Travolta and that’s when Robert Duvall steps in to defend him, saying something that I’ve always remembered. He said that what Travolta did for Sedgwick is one of the true definitions of loving someone- find out what their dreams are and do whatever you can to help them attain those dreams.
And whether my dream was to create this book myself or just to have such a book come into my life doesn’t really matter I don’t think.
Surprising me even further is the timing of this gift. Just as Susan managed to find the time every week to look for “Shout, Applaud” in the midst of such busyness, Kathy made it a mission to get this book for me despite the fact that she is going through a really difficult time right now. She and her husband just divorced after 32 years of marriage. They had been together since the 3rd grade.
After I looked at the book for a while, I drove to a little restaurant for lunch. I was feeling loved and high on life and it felt as though my feet hovered just above the concrete when I walked. It reminded me of how I felt when I was on a morphine drip in the hospital! I brought the book into the restaurant with me and set it on the table. The waitress came over to take my drink order and noticed it immediately. She said “That is such a beautiful book! Would you mind if I looked at it?” I said that I didn’t, and handed it over to her as she was wiping her hands clean on her apron. She flipped through it and oooohed and awwwwed over it as I told her how I had just received it and that it made me cry. She said “I can see why! Do you mind if I show my friends?” So, she carried the book around the restaurant showing the other waitresses, the cook, and the cashier. They all looked back over at me and gave me the thumbs up sign!
Throughout my meal the waitress came over to check on me and each time she did I showed her a different photograph. Finally, she just put her hand on my shoulder and said “I know this sounds weird, but that book gives me the chills!” It was neat to see someone else have similar enthusiasm over the book. I thought it was pay-it-forward kind of moment, so before I left I gave the waitress the bookmark that was inside the book which featured a photograph of hands and information about the author and photographer.
I’ve been savoring the book bit by bit ever since. The book and the gesture have cracked me open and I’ve felt as though all kinds of inspirations and encouragements are being whispered to me from all corners. It’s created a sort of ripple effect of goodness. So, although the book is entitled “Real”, I am calling it the little book that could.
When I first arrived back home with it, I called Mom and Kevin to tell them about my gift. Mom told me that I HAD to write the story down for everyone to read, so….there you have it!
And if anyone is interested in getting a glimpse of the book via its website, click here:
Take care everyone!