True Stories: Raining down kisses

My heart had the privilege of being touched by a woman I met purely by accident. I was visiting someone from my church at a nearby nursing care facility and happened to stop to fix a name plate that had slipped. I took that moment to gaze down the hall at the various residents in wheelchairs, some responsive and some not. A radio or TV buzzed from the nurse’s station. Was it painful to work there? Emotionally draining?

A voice called out to me from the crooked-sign room. “Got a minute there?” It was a white-haired, slightly mustached woman in a long flowered dress, sitting crooked in a wheelchair.

“Of course. Do you need help?”

“Why, yes I do. I want you to answer a question for me.” She wheeled to her dresser with a few grunts and dug in a drawer brimming with unfolded clothing. Out came a gorgeous picture of a World War II navy officer in a smart uniform with slicked hair and a jaunty smile. Dark hair gave him a dashing look that likely made many girls breathless. “Is he hot?”

I think I stuttered an answer.

“He’s hotter than that one though, isn’t he?” The woman pointed to her roommate’s dresser, adorned with hankies, an old-fashioned lamp, and an ornately framed picture of a soldier in an airforce uniform. “Mary won’t believe my husband looked better than hers, so I wanted another opinion.”

Fortunately, Mary was out of the room for therapy.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man as dashing as your husband.” And it was true. Just a hair short of cocky, his confident expression glinted of humor and life. His finely sculpted face could grace a book cover.

I settled in and asked the woman more about her husband. Every lively sentence out of her mouth made me smile inside and out, if that’s possible. I enjoyed every single word she spoke.

Finally I asked her what her favorite thing about him was, and she said, “Oh, honey. His kisses! I haven’t been kissed in years, and oh how I miss it. Mmm-hmmm.”

That started the beginning of our friendship. I came up with a silly idea inspired by my marvelous grandfather, who used to bring a bag of construction nails to his wife’s manicurist and ask her to “paint his nails.” Every time I visited the nursing home, I brought a single Hershey’s kiss. IMG_20151014_155437633I always made sure to bring a different type whenever I could–nut-filled, peppermint for the holidays, and even white chocolate (although that one was hard to give up). The first time I did this, I wondered if she’d even remember who I was or connect why on earth this strange girl was bringing her candy, so I pulled a  piece of paper from my highly organized and well-stocked purse (ok, it was a Walgreens receipt) and jotted a quick note. I left a single kiss with the note on her dresser as I left her room and hoped she’d find it. Before I’d reached the front door, her shrill laugh filled the hallway and made me smile.

Every time after that I dropped a kiss in her room as I left. Sometimes I jotted a quick note to leave just before I walked in, other times I only left the kiss. We never talked about this little inside joke, but her laughter–nearly every time–told me she enjoyed it.

After a year and a half of visits, she died in her sleep. The nurse told me at the nurse’s station, and I left right away, not even completing my visit to my church member–the person I actually came to see. I had to wait a bit before going back, but eventually I did it. And when I returned, the nurse who had informed me of my friend’s passing called me over to the desk.

“Thought you’d get a kick out of this,” she said, handing me a rusted metal lunch box. “Her family threw it out when they went through her things, but…”

And of course, inside lay every single hershey’s kiss I’d given her. And the notes scribbled against walls on receipts. And the goofy lip-shaped stick-a-note. All of it was wrapped delicately in a hankie, tucked into the box with care. Each note had been placed in a perfect stack on one side, as if she took great care of them as precious possessions.

My stupid little Walgreens receipts.

You may think you have nothing of value to offer. And maybe you don’t. I know I didn’t. What I really had, of course, was a God who sees and loves and orchestrates to His heart’s content, using what we deem worthless. And He is not to be underestimated.