The old woman trudged by my window every morning. She walked with her head down and her back bent, as if she were carrying a terrible burden. Her fists were tightly clenched and clutched to her chest. Every morning it was the same. One morning, as she shuffled by, I smiled and waved from my window. She did not see me, her head was down too low. The next morning, I stood on my front step and, as she passed, I smiled and waved. She saw me. She paused, looked over her shoulder, clutched her hands a little tighter to her chest, and continued on her way.
I was determined to get a response from her. So, the next morning, I stood in her path. When she reached me, she stopped. She did not look up, she did not try to go around me. She waited as she clutched her hands ever tighter to her chest. “Good morning!” I exclaimed, smiling brightly. At this, she looked up and I was shocked at what I saw. For this was not an old woman at all! Sure, she was stooped and she moved slowly, her hands and arms appeared gnarled, her face was a permanent scowl and there was no light in her eyes. But looking her full in the face, it was clear that this woman was much younger than she appeared.
She did not respond to my greeting, nor did she look me in the eye. In fact, other than slightly raising her head, she gave no indication that she had even heard me. “Good morning!” I again exclaimed “it’s a beautiful day!” She looked around, as if for the first time, and grunted “I hadn’t noticed.” Well, at least now I knew she could speak.
I was fascinated by this woman. Why did she appear so old? Why did she not engage in normal social interaction? Why did she clutch her hands so tightly to her chest? I wanted to ask her all of my questions, but from the look on her face it seemed that our brief exchange had angered her. So, I stepped aside and, as she shuffled by, I told her to have a nice day. We repeated this exact exchange over the next week. I would stand in her path, greet her, she would grunt in reply, and would move along as soon as I stepped out of her way.
On the seventh day, I stood there ready to offer my greeting, but she spoke first. “Why do you hinder me every morning?” Her voice was tinged with frustration and anger.
“I’m sorry,” I replied “but, if I can be completely honest, you’ve peaked my curiosity. I wonder why you appear older than you are, why you keep your head bowed so low, and why you clutch your hands so tightly to your chest.”
As I spoke, her face twisted in bitterness, her eyes filled with pain, and tears began to run down her cheeks. “Please,” she whispered, “just let me pass.” I stepped aside. I felt terrible. I had made her cry. I had hurt her.
I knew that I needed to apologize. So when she approached me the next morning, I was surprised when she spoke first. “I’m sorry for the way I responded yesterday,” she said. “I know you’ve been trying to be kind this past week by greeting me every morning. I’m sorry that I could not be kind in return; but I will answer your question.”
“You are curious as to why I clench my fists so tightly and hold my hands so close to my chest. Well, you see, I carry my dream. I hold it tightly so I don’t lose it. I clench my fists so others do not see it.”
“How long have you held your dream so tightly?” I asked.
“For all of my adult life” she replied.
“May I see it?”
“I can’t show you my dream! You might laugh at it, or ridicule me for even thinking I could have it.”
“I would never do that!”
“No, I’m sorry, but it’s too personal. I’m too afraid. I’ve held it too tightly for too long to risk losing it now.”
I told her I understood and she shuffled on her way.
For the next few months, I continued to speak to her when she came by. As she grew accustomed to me, she began to open up more. I discovered that she was actually quite funny – a dry, witty sense of humor. We had the same taste in music and movies and television. We enjoyed reading the same books. We were both Christians. We found we had many things in common and, I would say, we became friends. Occasionally, I would see a sparkle in her eyes, or a smile play at the corners of her mouth. Once, she even laughed out loud – a small chuckle that was quickly silenced. And she continued to clutch her dream tightly to her chest.
Eventually, our conversations became more meaningful and she told me what her dream was. I was not surprised by her dream. I did not think she was undeserving of that dream. I joined her in wondering why her dream had never come to fruition. “Is it something God has specifically promised you?” I asked one morning.
“No, I have never felt like it was a promise. It’s just something I’ve always wanted. I fantasized about what my life would be like once my dream was realized. I feel like my life has been on hold just waiting for my dream to begin. I’m beginning to lose hope though. I’m not getting any younger and, at my age, I don’t know if this dream is even possible anymore.”
“Well,” I mused aloud, “could it be possible that God has a different dream for you? A better dream for you?”
“Yes, I suppose that is possible. But he’s never given me another dream.”
“Well, maybe you need to let go of the old dream so you can receive the new.”
“No!” She cried. “Without this dream the future is a complete unknown. Without this dream, my life may not fit the ‘norm.’ Without this dream, I might have to accept a dream that makes me uncomfortable! No! It’s too hard! I don’t want to let go!”
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to give hollow advice or offer platitudes. After we spent some time in silence, I asked, “Do you trust God?”
“Yes” she replied.
“Do you doubt his character?”
“Do you believe in his love, his grace, and his mercy? Do you believe he gives good gifts to his children?”
“Are you living like you believe all of that?”
Her face fell. “No” she whispered.
“Have you entrusted your dream to God?”
“I thought I had.”
“But how can you give him your dream while clenching it so tightly?”
Tears coursed down her cheeks. She fell to her knees right there on the sidewalk. Doubled over, the sobs racked her body. Great groans of sorrow rent the otherwise peaceful morning. She knew. She knew she had to release her dream. The sobbing subsided but the tears still flowed as she lifted her head and slowly stretched out her arms – one at a time. The pain of reaching out after all these years must have been excruciating. Once she had completely extended her arms, she began to slowly uncurl her fingers until both of her hands were fully opened. I couldn’t help but stare at her dream. It was yellowed with age, dry, cracked, useless. As we sat there looking at her dream, it began to disintegrate and a slight breeze came up, sweeping every last piece away.
“Wow,” I thought, “this is too much. She won’t be able to handle the complete annihilation of her dream.” But then an amazing thing began to happen. She looked up, she threw her arms wide, and at the top of her lungs she began to sing praises to God. She stood up and, as she continued to worship, I was amazed at her physical transformation. Her back straightened, her face softened, and her eyes were shining. She looked decades younger. And as I sat there, marveling at the changes to her appearance, she began to laugh. Not a giggle, not a chuckle, but a loud and long full belly laugh.
When the laughing subsided, she looked at me with a beatific smile and she showed me her hands. There, if you looked hard enough, you could see the beginnings of a new dream. Oh, it may only be the size of a mustard seed now, but it is alive! And I have full confidence that if she listens to the Lord about how to cultivate her dream, if she continues to walk with her hands open and her arms outstretched, then, in God’s time, that tiny seed will sprout, it will grow, and it will bear fruit. Her dream will thrive!