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April 29, 2014 7:16 am

AMEND CORNER: Recent delivery a gift from the past

Written by Don Amend

One day last week, a mysterious package addressed to me arrived in our mailbox.

When my wife placed the the soft, squishy item marked priority mail on my lap, my immediate reaction was to try to remember what I had ordered and from whom I had ordered it. After all, I have been known to order a book or CD online, forget all about it the next day and be totally surprised when it arrives.

The return address, though, was written in longhand, which seemed to eliminate the notion that whatever was in the package came from some sort of commercial enterprise. It also deepened the mystery, since I recognized neither the handwriting nor the address.

Well, I’m a little slower-witted than I used to be, so it took a couple of minutes before it dawned on me that I could find out what it was I had or hadn’t ordered if I just opened the package and took a look.

I had to overcome the obstacle presented by the mailing envelopes our postal service sells for such purposes, which are nearly impossible for me to use my usual method of opening the mail, which is simply to rip it open.

Fortunately, my pocketknife was close at hand, and, taking care to avoid damaging whatever was in the envelope, I made a few deft cuts and opened it.

Inside, I found, not something I had ordered, but a beautifully woven shawl. Still puzzled, I marveled at the softly woven threads and the muted earth-tone colors, and wondered who had sent it to me. Eventually I found a note written on a single sheet of paper and signed by a woman named Tanja. There was no last name, but I knew right away who Tanja was.

Tanja and I haven’t crossed paths in over 30 years. She and our daughter, Erica, became friends during a week at church camp on Casper Mountain many years ago. They made a sort of odd couple. Erica was short; Tanja was tall. Erica tended to dress more conventionally, while Tanja was more likely to dress flamboyantly and sport the latest in ’80s teen accessories. One was cautious and a bit on the quiet side; the other was more adventuresome and outgoing.

Despite their different styles, not to mention the fact that they lived 150 miles apart, the two became fast friends. Distance limited their time together, but they enjoyed each other’s company through other church camp seasons and a week at music camp in the Black Hills.

They took advantage of NWC’s Jazz Festival and a state basketball tournament to spend time together and were happy that they were able to play together in the All-State Band. They visited each other’s high schools and attended their respective graduations in Greybull and Lander.

After high school, their paths diverged. They attended colleges on the extreme opposite borders of South Dakota and followed different paths in their personal lives. Today, one lives in Minnesota and the other in Colorado, and I don’t think they’ve seen each other face to face since their respective colleges met on the football field back in the 1990s.

Despite the separation, though, they remain in touch, an easy thing to do in today’s wired world, and so it is that, through Facebook, Tanja knows all about my health. Moreover, she is sensitive to my situation because her mother also suffers from a painful condition.

Tanja’s note told of a women’s group at her church that makes prayer shawls like the one I received. They are given to individuals as reminders that they are not alone, but are in the prayers of many believers, even many they have never met.

Tanja’s favorite member of the group is Ardi, who is 84 years old and someone Tanja sees as a kindred spirit. That’s why the shawl I received last week is product of Ardie’s loom, and Tanja says it was “created by skillful, loving hands and true, heartfelt prayer.”

Over the past two years, I have received encouragement and support from many people. Some of them I see regularly and some, like Tanja, are individuals I haven’t seen in years, even decades. Still others are people I have never met. Their concern and encouragement have helped me through some bad days and during nights of fitful sleep throughout that time.

One of those bad days was the very day I opened that mystery package. In my thank you note, I told Tanja that the shawl had arrived just when I needed it, and it brightened my spirits and banished my discomfort when I opened it, just as it was intended to do.

In the days to come, this unsolicited gift that arrived so unexpectedly last week will continue to lift my spirit. It will give me peace and comfort by reminding me of all those individuals who are keeping me in their thoughts and prayers, no matter who they are or where they live.

It’s a simple, but beautiful gift, and it’s tangible proof that I will never be alone.

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