A Gratitude for Unseen Helpers

Updated: Jun 13


Like most of us navigating the troubled waters of life on Earth, I am struggling to stay afloat. Today I am pulling myself out of the roiled waters long enough to settle on a rock and consider the resources I have at hand as we enter yet another covid surge. I've got three clean masks ready to wear if I need to leave the house, but mostly I'm staying home, again. Even though I was just getting the hang of being out and about. Like every one, I am trying to keep pace with the expanding and contracting social contexts of pandemic living. How have my social needs changed over the last year or two? And how am I relating differently to myself?


For decades I have relied on friendly encounters with random strangers to help me find the boundaries of myself on the map of now. If you don't understand that sentence, sit with it a bit. Cafes, bank and grocery lines, park benches. Lovely people we don't know used to be every where. Now, not so much. Because here in the covidiverse, where mostly we only talk to the people we plan to talk to, the joy of magical stranger encounters ain't happening much, and my struggle is real.

I am curious to know... who offers the markers in your landscape that let you know where you stand in space and time? Maybe your family, or familiar objects and places, or the people you work with (even on Zoom), or play frisbee with, or sit shoulder to shoulder with in worship. Maybe the regulars at the bar who've always kept you honest about who you are. Maybe your book club buddies or the stitch-n-bitch crew. Your aikido class or the regulars on the bus. Or the other parents you see when you drop off kids. Or the guys at the diner and the barbershop. You know, the folks who help you take measure of your relationship with living (in the maha lila) in a way that generates substance for keeping on and taking next steps. For me, these people are random strangers.

From as young as I can remember I have intuited an existential intelligence that I call 'central casting' (thank you Get Smart) which sends me the encounters that help me feel, dare I say, real. And yes, I do pause to wonder for a moment what it says about my family of origin that I learned to rely on strangers for a positive reality check. Nevertheless, this sense of connection with the inherent goodness of chance encounters has made me aware that we all have unseen helpers, energies that come our way and help us through.

In the garden too, the unseen sustains me. The solace I gather in early March from knowing snowdrops are blooming under the snow sings a thread of new confidence into whatever winter has done with me, promising the small beauty I sorely need. And since childhood, when I am troubled I talk to the local trees and rocks and have felt reassured. You will think I am anthropomorphizing the trees and rocks and plants, but not at all. I do not imagine I exist from the perspective of a rock. I am being in relation with their being. Their constance and seasons help me know where I am in my own space and time.

Recently I passed a place along the road where there used to be a garden store I liked to visit. Something caught my curiosity as I passed so I pulled a U-turn and came back around. It had been a good place to buy seeds, tools, and gifts. An ideal place for chance encounters with strangers. Also a good place to take children on a winter afternoon when the sky is low for the remedy of a greenhouse full of blooming plants.


It closed a few years back and the greenhouse is gone, the lot is empty now and grown in, with a pile of old bricks in the driveway and cement footings sticking out from the ground at odd angles. I left my engine running and went poking in the remains. I found a magnificent potsherd, a blue glazed piece of ceramic about the size of my two open hands, with a bigger than life sized dragonfly embossed in the clay. It felt like an omen of goodness still to come. An affirmation that even this broken world still has treasures to delight me and carry home to my garden, a blue reminder to take heart. A hint from my unseen helpers to let myself remember the sweetness. A reassurance that, even amidst the rubble of everything that was, there will be welcome surprises.


Photos: Ganesh by Ayyappa Vardhan @Unsplash

Dragonfly potsherd, home made @tiny

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