A handful of change from My Lady

Published 10:43 pm Saturday, July 5, 2014

By Dennis Edwards

She was always there, always radiating the kind of gentle smile Webster might use to define the word “love.” Pearl Alphin Jones sat on the pew in front of my family at First Baptist Church, Mahan St. When I was 4, her smile — and her magnificent handful of change — were my Sunday sources of elation.

Just the idea that someone would reach into her pocketbook and do that was enough to take me away from my reality for an extended time.

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Pearl Jones was a widowed, retired teacher, living on a fixed income in her home on old Norfolk road. She was one of a host of men and women whose acts of kindness affirmed my soul at a very young age.

What I enjoyed about “Miss Pearl” was how she didn’t do it to garner favor, to get me to come by her house or in return for services rendered. She filled my hand, because she didn’t know what else to do.

Like many around town, my Dad’s unexpected death rattled her, really shook her up. Something within her needed to respond immediately. The change in her purse was all she had at the moment.

Maybe that’s what sticks with me, the pure kindness of it all. She did it because she was hurting for me. Isn’t that the best reason to give anything to anyone?

After all, we weren’t destitute. In fact my parents’ planning insured our lives never changed day to day. We stayed in the same house, never wanted for a thing. Actually we lived an upper-middle class lifestyle. When I went off to college, my mother paid every cent of my tuition and gave me a car in high school.

So Miss Pearl wasn’t responding to need. She was responding in love. I started calling her “My Lady,” because her gift was just for me. For a moment it lifted me above mourning. But most of all it said someone I knew was hurting too.

My Lady showed me giving has nothing to do with whether the recipient is worthy. She showed me that giving comes out of the shared experience of loss and restoration, that it means something when we actually like the people to whom we give.

It got to the point where My Lady sought me out to leave “a little something” almost every Sunday. I began to notice she got more from it than I did. As I grew older and started working, my mother let her know those gifts were no longer necessary. You could see a subtle disappointment drape her eyes and face. She missed the success of her gifts, how I’d get happy and start jumping around.

As I look back. I am saddened at growing beyond those reactions. Not for myself, but because my joy was My Lady’s reward. As time passed, she stopped reaching into her pocketbook and started reaching for a hug and a kiss. All of her was in each one.

My Lady taught me that through authentic giving God uses each of us to bridge the gap between tragedy and triumph. Somewhere at the center of those peculiar opposites, My Lady stood there to make sure my trip was a little easier.