Written In Stone

Recently, we were in Florida visiting members of my husband's family. I find myself thinking about a proverb I heard somewhere, and how it reminds me of my husband's grandfather.

"To the person doing the small kindness, it is written in sand. But to the person recieving, it is written in stone."

My husband's grandfather, who we'll call George because I'm tired of typing "my husband's grandfather", was a contractor in the Miami area decades and decades ago. He died a few years ago in his eighties. He fascinated me because he had such a striking resemblance to my husband. Sure, they looked physically alike. But the really shocking part is how much their personalities were alike. And the physical mannerisms. It was especially fascinating because they didn't spend much time in close proximity when my husband was growing up. Still, there was no denying that they were two of a kind.

I also found it incredibly interesting that George thought I was the greatest thing since sliced bread (which was slightly out-of-character for him). Of course, we had something in common. We both thought my husband was practically perfect. I think perhaps sometimes he wished he could show his bias toward my husband the way that I could, but he maintained a firm neutrality among his grandchildren. Still, he was a clever man. Looking back now, I realize there were things he told me that he couldn't/wouldn't tell my husband, trusting that I would know how to handle it when the time came.

I was a novel concept for him. George was a successful man, who commanded respect from everyone around him. When he talked, people listened. Quietly. With respect radiating from every fiber of their being. Its not that he was an ogre, he was just awe-inspiring. With that image firmly in your mind, imagine him having lunch with me. I'm chatty. I don't think he had been exposed to "chatty" in a very long time. Culture-shock might be an understatement. Yet, we were exactly what each other needed. I love to talk about my husband, and he loved to listen about my husband.

Once, he was in the hospital for a few days in another city. I wrote him 9 typed pages single-spaced and double-sided about nothing except my husband. George wouldn't let it leave his sight. He'd ask the nurses during the night when he couldn't sleep to read him parts of it. He'd shake his head in amazement and say "she talks just like that ... she adores him". I think maybe that was a huge relief to him ... that I adore my husband, and have enough spirit to go toe-to-toe with anyone that might not have his best interest at heart.

But I digress ...

The first year we were married, George and my husband's grandmother were living in Boca and we were living in north Florida. There was a huge ugly hurricane that destroyed south Florida. We decided to drive down to visit and see if there was anything we could do for them. I was worried about them but my husband assured me that their house was well-built.

George built the house rather suddenly, when he accidentially sold their previous house. A relative of Sidney Pointier rang his doorbell one evening, saying that his mother had always thought their house was the loveliest house in town and now that prosperity had found the family, he was prepared to pay any price for the house and the furnishings as long as George would move out immediately. George named an obscene price, which was met. I can't imagine George trying to explain this to his wife later. But, since he was a contractor and she motivated him, their new house was finished in 60 days by crews working three shifts 24-hours a day. She liked what she liked, and he liked giving her what she liked, so the house was built with stone imported from Antigua. It looked almost like jade, but it had to be used in whatever shape it came from the quarry because cutting it on-site was impossible. The walls were easily a foot thick with tall narrow windows set back into the interior walls, with fully functional hurricane shutters. Inside, there was a stone load-bearing wall that ran the length of the house. It was as "hurricane proof" as you could reasonably get.

George was proud of the fact that he built strong safe buildings. When we visited he drove us down along the water-front to look at the skyline of Miami. He pointed out that the tall buildings he built were still standing, while many of the others took significant amounts of damage. He didn't build things to "code", he built them better. He believed in doing the right thing, even when it wasn't the expedient thing.

Which leads me finally to the proverb: "To the person doing the small kindness, it is written in sand. But to the person recieving, it is written in stone."

I only saw George flustered once, so surprised and touched that he almost dissolved into chattering. I doubt he would have ever told me this story, but he was so stunned ...

To put it gently, George had a spine. He did the right thing, not the easy thing, and he succeeded in spite of it (or perhaps because of it). When he was a young (but never-the-less ridiculously successful) contractor, he worked during some difficult economic times. Those were times when Cubans were treated poorly, almost second-class citizens, just because they weren't white-as-a-ghost. Times when jobs were scarce. But, for the purposes of this story we are only concerned with one Cuban. A hard-working family man with a talent for welding. He was truly gifted in his wrought iron works. But, as fate would have it, bigotry prevailed. Sometimes this Cuban of exceptional skill would find himself almost reduced to begging to keep food on the table. I say "almost". Almost no one would hire him. Almost. Sometimes, when things were desperate, he would go to George and ask "Perhaps you have a little something for me to do?" And George, who was a kind man who understood pride, would find a "little something". Sometimes the houses he built were willing to be the recipient of a little wrought-iron work, for practically nothing (George absorbed the cost). When George didn't have anything residential under-construction, he decided that his own house needed a wrought-iron fence.

To George, it was no more than the blink of an eye. A sandcastle, to be washed away almost as soon as it was concieved. A small kindness to be almost forgotten. I say "almost".

George retired rather early after building a small empire. He spent years as a home-body taking care of his ailing wife. He had been out of the "loop" for years and years, forgotten by almost everyone he ever did business with. Cast aside by almost everyone when he was no longer influential and powerful. Then the huge ugly hurricane hit his neighborhood. Other houses suffered some damage, but his house was fine. The only small problem was that something had twisted the small wrought-iron gate going into the back yard. Never one to procrastinate, he called the Cuban's son's welding company right away. He told them that his gate had a little damage, but that it wasn't an emergency, that he knew they were busy but that he just wanted to put his name on the waiting list to eventually get the gate fixed. Then he took his wife for a drive around the block to look at the neighborhood.

He returned home about 30 minutes later. There was a welding truck sitting in his driveway with two men in it. "We're here to fix your gate". George was stunned. He told them something along the lines of "I wasn't expecting you. You should have called, I might have been gone for hours!"

They responded "That would have been fine. We brought our lunch. Our instructions are to fix this gate." George was amazed at the level of service, but just chalked it up to an agressive customer-service policy. Then, the gate was finished. George got out his checkbook. The two men looked each other. One said our boss sent a message "We. Remember. You."

No money exchanged hands that day. But what they gave George was worth more than just a few hundred dollars of free iron-work. He was flabbergasted that he had done something so significant that a generation later he was reverred for it. That someone he had never met could look at a list of appointments and pick out his name as familiar and good. George was completely stunned and grateful to catch a glimpse of himself through someone else's eyes and see an image of himself as a hero.

Before that moment, George saw only the tiny fragment of interaction between himself and the Cuban. He didn't understand the big picture. It reminds me of another proverb "To save one is to save the world". I didn't entirely understand that for a long time. Perhaps I still don't understand all the nuances. Some people go through their whole lives and don't understand it at all, or even consider the concept. I don't think George really understood until that moment, when he realized that he had been a hero to someone, essentially saving their world. May we all be so fortunate as to find out that we have been someone's hero.

Make Waves

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