looking for signs where there aren't any

After reading about tragedy and worrying about my children today (I do tend to go down that path) I undertook to do something nice for someone.
I know that the story about my hat can be construed as crazy. You know the story about my hat: a stranger saw the photo of my beret on my flickr site and asked if she could buy it from me. She had had the same hat and lost it and was very sad. I could not agree to sell it to her but I did agree to meet her in town to see if it could be copied by a milliner.
Now, before you think I am stupid (because I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid) I will tell you that just yesterday I allowed someone to manipulate me to get something they wanted. I knew perfectly well that this person was manipulating me and I never said a word - I went along for the ride and, in the end, the person didn't get what they wanted anyway. So, when I set off on this lark, for the woman who had lost her hat, I was quite wary.
I did not offer any details about myself, I only gave her my email address, I was not forthcoming with information about anything other than the hat.
I took the train into town (and nearly forgot the hat!).
I scoped out the address of the millinery shop.
I waited until the exact moment I was expected and went upstairs.
As soon as I saw her I knew I would do whatever needed to be done to help her in her quest, short of selling her my hat.

She was small and nervous. I wish I could draw her - I can't draw.
We were both overdressed for the warm sunshine but she was perspiring.
She looked a little desperate, but perfectly nice. Nervous.
We showed the hat to the milliner and he brought it to a back room and returned with bad news.
His man could not duplicate the hat.
I worried that she would implore me to sell it - I was afraid.
But she was smarter. She asked if anyone in the area might be able to make a duplicate and he gave us the name of a hat shop around the corner.

As we walked, she tried to ask me about what I do for a living, and where I live and my children and I'm afraid I was not especially warm to her. I was pleasant enough, but I was worried that I'd be faced with some kind of ultimatum.

I wish I could describe her, and now she has my site address and if she is reading I do not want to be disrespectful - and, in truth, I do not intend to be unkind about her. But she was so interesting. Like a small bird. And her handbag and wallet were jammed with papers and cards and she had the remnants of her lunch in a bag...and she seemed so bereft.
I am not stupid in that I googled her name and knew perfectly well that she was a decent person. Someone's wife, someone's daughter - I knew when I asked her what she did for a living what she did for a living. But I was still wary.

On the way to the second hat maker I found myself becoming protective of her. She was rifling through her bag and worried about finding the address and I cautioned her against losing something. I had to hold back to not watch her when we crossed a busy street. I wanted so much to be firm and strong.

We arrived at the second hat shop and the women at the counter were eager to tell us they could not help - that no one they knew of made hats like mine. We were dismissed.
But there was a man in the shop (which I wish I had photographed, full of hat forms and trims) who talked about how my hat was made and this sparked the interest of a woman who was shopping there.
I'm working hard to remember the woman. It turned out that she was a hat maker. And she joined in our conversation and began to talk about my hat. A double beret. In wool. With unfinished edges. She might be able to make one. Would I loan it to her? How was the hat worn? On the back of our heads? No measurements needed. She would, if I allowed it, take the hat back to her studio, and do her best to duplicate it.
She was wonderful looking. She had interesting shoes. And a skirt. And a kerchief or scarf or something wound through her hair. And she had a well loved hat with her that she was endeavoring to copy for someone. Oh, I wish I had taken pictures. But I was trying so hard to be discreet, to not say that I am a great observer, a blogger, a writer, a person who sees every little detail of every single thing. And even as I write this, as Middle is having his music lesson ten feet away from me and his music is so intense and complex, so are my emotions.
I let the hat maker take my hat with her to another city.
I walked a couple of blocks with the little nervous lady.
I went and sat for a few minutes and called K to tell him what was going on.

And then I got on the train and went home.
I listened to cello music and stared at the clouds.
I saw a passenger on the train be nasty to another who was trying to speak quietly on the phone.
I kept thinking about all of it.
About doing something for a stranger unconditionally.
And this thing I've done is nothing. I don't mean to suggest that it is anything but trivial.
I'll shut down the comments if people go on about what a nice thing it was.

She offered to pay for my train ticket. To buy my lunch or coffee.
I shook her hand and told her to do something nice for someone else. I told her to pay it forward, which is ridiculous because it is nothing. She could hold the door for an old lady and it would be more.
But she kissed me goodbye.
She knows nothing about me. She said it was nice of me to do this. I told her I'm not so nice. And I do hope she gets her hat.
And I don't want this experience to be anything more than loaning someone a hat.
But, still, I put it out there, to the universe. As a gesture which I'm hoping can mean something even though it is just loaning someone my hat.



Comments

barbra said…
I think I get a sense of what you're feeling today.

I want to help the Potters too.
I am unable to help them.
I am unable to stop thinking about them.
I think maybe you're on to something, just feeling like putting a little help out there, loose in the world, maybe it will do something...
catsteevens said…
I think just putting this story out there will do something. Because reading it made me stop and think a moment. Normally I would be the first to shoo-away a person like your hat lady. Maybe next time I won't be so quick to shoo.
alice c said…
Hmmm...
so you loan somebody you have never met your favourite hat to please somebody you have only just met...
and you don't want us to say nice things about you...
I'm struggling...
Caitlin said…
It's so much about trust isn't it? In this world, full of potential danger and weirdness and dishonesty it is a huge thing to put trust in another....in a complete stranger....then another stranger...even with something as seemingly trivial as a hat. But it's not the hat you're entrusting them with is it? It's much more than that.
tut-tut said…
This is an awesome piece of writing, miss bb; I look forward to more introspection and city-ness.
jenontheedge said…
You did a good thing and that generates good karma. Good karma always pays forward. This will lead to more good things in the universe. So I am hopeful that you will get your hat back, the other lady will get the hat she wants, and that other positive things will happen.
I love this story for what happened and for the fascinating details you included.

Paying it forward is a win-win situation.
gabe said…
I love you AND the little sparrow of a hat lady. Email me BB. I have a couple double berets to show you that might help. My Oldest's godmother died from breast cancer far to young. After losing her magnificent red hair she was APPALLED people thought she should 'embrace' her baldness and stroll Metropolis like that. He bought her luscious beautiful smoochey berets every chance he got.

Lovely piece of writing, lovely gesture and YOU are a lovely person.
jen said…
You said you'd shut down comments if anyone got too nice, so how about this? You just choked me up... you asshole.
TEOM said…
I am curious why you are so insistent that your efforts, however small, were "nothing". To me, doing something is not nothing.
Anonymous said…
I've been angry lately, and I've been nasty to strangers. Bad stuff has been stressing me to the max. Your story has inspired me get over it, and treat others as I would like to be treated. And I will get rid of the necklace and get my hair cut...soon.
robiewankenobie said…
what a grand adventure!
Ree said…
An interesting day in which you did something that was unusual and met people you may not have normally met.

It meant something.
Pay it forward.

It works.

And we should all live our lives on that basis.

Love to you.
I bought flowers for someone I really don't like very much today. Yesterday's events in Wellfleet took my breath away and broke my heart and made me want to right things with people that I've slighted or ignored or pissed off (and there are quite a few.) I made a special trip to the nicest florist all the way 'cross town on my lunch break and chose the most vibrant flowers from the case. I penned an apology for my bad behavior - for acting from the fear-based place in me instead of the loving one. I delivered the flowers, proverbial hat in hand and tail between my legs, and was REALLY surprised when the person for whom I had purchased them expressed honest confusion about the apology - and the slight that I felt warranted it... but accepted them as apology for a completely other thing that I had done, of which I was, sadly, blithely unaware.

Life is short and precious and scary wonderful - we live most of the time never really conscious of how our actions and words will fall out around us - who will be touched by the ripples, good and bad.

I love that you took as many steps as you did because you were touched by the bird-woman's longing - even if it was just for a hat. There are layers of meaning here that I'm certain will unfold in remarkable ways...

Thank you for the story -
Love to you,
Susan
Cate said…
I think the nice things we do are important, especially when we don't much care about the outcome.

Once I found a lady passed out in the wet grass in front of my apartment at 10pm. I called an ambulance, rode with her to the hospital, and sat there until I found out she was ok. She had had an epileptic seizure, and was REALLY pissed at me for bringing her to the hospital -- it cost money. But I still think it was the right thing to do.

We recently allowed the county to dig up our side and back yards to fix our rear neighbors' sewer connection. The neighbors didn't plan for access, and getting to it from their yard would have meant taking down a fence. On our side (because we built our fence with a wide access point), it meant tearing up the yard, 3 days of heavy machinery, and a year or two waiting for the yard to come back. And not a thank you from the neighbors, not one.

But you know -- right is right, and that's what you have to do. Even if everyone else is only looking out for themselves, as long as someone is even occasionally thinking about others, it's the way to go.

Now I'm done. And so this isn't sappy and you don't close comments, you just think you're special because you have an Agnes B hat.
Suzanne said…
Some people just have good hearts, regardless of what other petty, trivial, less-than-stellar qualities they may possess.

And those good hearts shine through, spilling rays of sunshine into the lives of others, in ways both large and microscopic.

And I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you, dear bb, are a good-hearted person. Deal with it.
Eleanor said…
Would it be ok with you if I occasionally use the noun "blackbird" as a verb? Definition would be as follows: "to blackbird - to do something kind and thoughtful to a complete stranger, as in 'I thought she would ignore me, but instead she blackbirded me, it took my breath away!'" The Australian dictionary would naturally have the following colloquialism added: "'to chuck a blackbird' - same definition as above, as in 'she is such a fab woman, she never misses an opportunity to chuck a blackbird.'"
Kim said…
You are so very weird.


I WILL KILL YOU WITH A TRAY
Kim said…
I'm still coming to terms with the fact you own a beret, let alone the fact you did something weirdly nice for someone.
Poppy Buxom said…
So THAT'S why, when we met for the first time in Chicago, it was just for coffee.

You were afraid I was going to mooch your hat. Hey, good for you for not even wearing it, because I totally would have.

May I just add that I'm jellus that you have not just one, but a selection of hatmakers within a reasonable distance of Tuvalu.
paola said…
yesterday it was my gym owner's birthday, she offered almond cake with powdered sugar and coffee to everyone. The whole floor was covered with powder. She got her vacuum to clean and I took it off her hands and vacuumed all the gym. First when I got there (1st turn) and then when we finished our turn.
I believe small gestures in our eyes can be huge in others.
All my friends asked me why I did that and twice. Told me I am too kind and passed for a fool as they giggled.
I don't care.
Nor should you.

Is that brother L above me promising to cut his hair and take the necklace off?
I heart you.
Jackie said…
I love the hat story. For so many reasons. Thank you for putting it out there.
Olga said…
That whole experiance struck me as so surreal, like a weird movie plot starring that Francis lady,all these peoples lifes swirling around a hat. Hmmm, food for thought!
Joke said…
The niceness of something isn't measured in the effort expended, but in the result.

-J.
Terese said…
The transference of life experiences through writing a blog sometimes spills off the screen. I love this story.
Anonymous said…
People Are Unreasonable

People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Suceed anyway.

The good you do will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spent years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.


It is my understanding that this poem hung on the wall of Mother Teresa’s children’s home in Calcutta.

You live life well BB.
blackbird said…
Awwww. Isn't a shame when Anonymous turns out to be very NICE and we don't know who it is?
kilowatthour said…
hey lady. that was a neat story.

i'm all caught up on the last two months of your bloggery now. it's been too long!
Ginnie said…
This is good, bb. Just very, very good. Thanks for sharing it with us in all the detail, how you were feeling before, and during, and after.
Amy said…
I like reading about your small adventures, bb, and I like that you are open to embarking on them.
jenny said…
Had to skip your survivor post because I've yet to watch. But this one? Good stuff. Want to say more but everyone here has already done so, and much more eloquently than I.

I'm curious to see how it will all turn out too.
Eliane said…
BB and her little bird:
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/award97/ndfahtml/hult_women_03.html