On being fillers of the sponge (“thank you for saying that”)

Categorized as Rhonda's Posts

It’s time to make some magic in the kitchen. Friends are coming for dinner tonight, and I’m mixing up Surprise Cupcakes. But alas. I’m the one who is surprised, for I’m short on cocoa with no cupcake liners in sight. Rats.
I pop across the field to the local dollar store. I’m on a mission, laser focused. The baking aisle, however, eludes me. Down the way, I see a balding, younger fellow stocking shelves. For as long as we’ve lived in this town, patronizing this store, he’s been a fixture. He is always, always in motion.
I approach him. “Could you tell me where the baking supplies are?”
“Sure.” His answer is quick and ready, and he leads me across the store. He stops, and points, and at once my spirit quickens for I know what I need to do now.
Looking up at him, I say, “Your district manager is in our Sunday School class. Many of our class members say what a good worker you are.” I am smiling.
Instantly, his face behind the mask transforms. His countenance lightens. He’s smiling now, too. His body keeps moving–dithering, almost, and he’s talking. “I was older,” he says, “when I got my first job. I was 17. I helped my parents at home. We had 6.2 acres, and I’d trim bushes and take care of stuff.”
Standing there, I am instantly back on our own three acres, and I think of four boys that I know. Running, jumping, climbing boys who, too, “trimmed bushes and took care of stuff,” pulling weeds, mowing lawn, and raking leaves. Food furnaces to a man, how they’d groaned and fussed for all the world like the Israelites crossing the desert as their father and I built their characters through hard, physical work.
One hot, summer day, my mother called. The grumpiest “Israelite” answered the phone. On this end, all I’d heard was a sigh. And then this, “Well, my mom just got a new tip for her whip.” The laughter on Grandma’s end was distinct and audible.
All of this flashes through my mind as I’m standing in front of the cocoa. “Your manager,” I tell him, “says you’re his best employee.”
He’s moving, moving, moving. “Well, other people are better at certain things than I am.” That’s what he says. His desire to believe it is tangled with some innate reticence.
“It’s okay to just receive it,” I say. And still, my face is smiling.
“Thank you for saying that.” He utters these five words, and then I’m wishing him a happy weekend, and he’s gone.
On my way home in the brittle sunshine of winter, I think of his words and his face. How his spirit had brightened at my words, and I think, then, of you and of me.
The human heart is a sponge. That’s what comes to me as I’m heading for home and my kitchen. We are, all of us, hungry for love. We are starving, each one, for approval.
“Thank you for saying that.”
I see once again that I am either raining down life, filling other sponges, or I am squeezing and twisting them dry. How our families, our cities, our states, and our nation would be consoled, comforted, inspired, and changed if we all would choose to be fillers. If we all would choose to speak life.
“Thank you for saying that.” May these five, little words be a guide.

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