Faith Stories: Reflections from “Noah’s Ark”
Why do I have a green construction paper heart with a Batman sticker on it displayed on my refrigerator? I have it there to help me remember the important things I was reminded of at Operation Noah’s Ark the week before last.
Having never volunteered at an emergency shelter before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I arrived on Monday morning. I wandered around for a while, looking for a task to do and eventually ended up at the children’s art table, coloring with four year old K. We had a great time discussing his favorite colors and the picture we were decorating. After a while he wandered off and returned with a Play-Doh kit. The kit had four cans of Play-Doh along with small rolling pins and cookie cutters. I tried to engage K in talking about the flood, what had happened at his home, and how he ended up in the shelter. He was completely uninterested in that discussion but was absolutely delighted with his ability to roll out Play-Doh and precisely cut out stars, whales and hearts with the cookie cutters. I was amazed at his ability to be delighted, here in the midst of a noisy gym, with a hundred strangers around him, including me. At lunchtime I had to leave and told him I hoped to see him the next day if my office was still closed for business.
On Tuesday morning I arrived and saw K. running through the Family Life Center, holding a three-foot foam sword aloft and screaming at the top of his lungs, followed closely by four-year-old A. and two-year-old J. As I walked past a group of children playing with Lego’s on the floor, they informed me that “some boy” had come over and knocked over all of the buildings they had put together. As I sympathized with them I had a feeling that I knew just who that boy might be. I unearthed the crayons we had been using the day before and found a Batman coloring book that I thought might serve as a lure to get the marauding three over to the table for a quiet activity. As it turned out, I didn’t need a lure. As soon as K. saw me across the room his eyes lit up and he came running over to give me a big hug, followed by hugs from A. and J. They were happy to relinquish the sword and sit down and color for a while. I noticed a page of Batman stickers in the front of the book and asked each of them to choose a sticker if they wanted one. All three waited patiently as they each took their turn to choose a sticker and sat quietly as I stuck them on their shirts. As I started to turn the pages of the book to find something to color, K. slammed his hand down on the book and shouted, “Wait!” As I looked at him questioningly he said, “You don’t have a sticker yet.” They again waited while I chose my sticker and K ceremoniously stuck it on my shirt. I never expected to feel my heart melt over a Batman sticker.
Chatty, six-year-old H. joined our little group while two-year-old J. wandered off to find her mother. The six-year-old continued to color and chat, but four year olds aren’t known for their attention span and they soon tired of coloring. I suggested that we get out the Play-Doh kit but, apparently, the kit from the day before had been banned due to some sort of Play-Doh eating incident from the previous evening. Just as I was trying to come up with something else for us to do, some kind volunteer showed up with four cans of brand new Play-Doh. The two four-year-olds then spent the next half hour making snakes, bracelets and pretend brownies and meatballs while six-year-old H. continued coloring in her Care Bear coloring book. Just as the excitement over Play-Doh was waning and I was trying to think of something else to keep my little group occupied, Deacon Sarah walked up with a bag of child-sized scissors. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from helping Jill and Margaret in the pre-school Sunday School classroom, it’s that four year olds l-o-v-e scissors and cutting. I passed out green construction paper, and the two four-year-olds were soon absorbed with trying to get their fingers in the right holes in the scissors and cutting their paper into bits. Meanwhile, H. quietly told me that she loved me and she proceeded to draw, color and cut out a green construction paper heart for me. How many times in one day can a volunteer’s heart melt?
On Wednesday morning I showed up just in time to tell my little friends good-bye. Happily, they were leaving the shelter to return home or to other, more comfortable, lodgings.
As these challenging days of recovery continue for our community, I want to try to remember everything my tiny teachers taught me during those extraordinary mornings at Noah’s Ark. I want to be able to take delight in small things even if my circumstances try to dictate otherwise. I want to remember that small gestures of kindness can mean a lot and I want to remember that I should pay attention, because often just what I need shows up just when I need it. I want to remember that sometimes you start out with the intention of sharing space and crayons and Play-Doh and end up sharing your heart. I have the proof right there on my refrigerator.