By Ted Furlow
There is a cement walk on the east side of the Pastoral Center marked with a “perpetual puddle.” The puddle, a testimony to poor concrete finishing, is always a challenge to step around in the mornings after a lawn watering. I move with something less than gazelle like grace, so I keep a close eye on it to avoid splashing or slipping.
Some weeks ago I noticed that someone had dropped a yellow comb smack in the middle of the puddle. Bad luck, I thought, for the owner and the comb. I stepped around it thinking the owner will eventually notice the comb gone, and would pick it up when they left the building. Not necessarily so, I learned, as the comb was still awash in the “perpetual puddle” the next morning.
There are two groups of people in the world, the ones who pick things up, and those who don’t. Maybe it is all of that Boy Scout training, but I think of myself in the first group. So the next morning I bent down to pick the comb up, and stopped short. I was struck by the idea of leaving it to see what might happen … how long would it take before someone reacted to a yellow comb on the walk?
Apparently longer than you would think, as in the following days I watched the comb make its way up and down the sidewalk. Finally out of the water, it was daily kicked along the building, repeatedly making its way back to the center line only to be stepped over and around. Finally, it came to rest in a sprinkler cut out on the lawn, where even the gardener didn’t pick it up. Are people just blind to things? What was it about this yellow comb?
I finally rescued it, took it to my office, and thumbtacked it to my bulletin board. Daily it stares at me, like a blond mustache on a cork face, with an unspoken message for me to hear. As the weeks passed I mused on its meaning, then one day I began to see it as a metaphor for hope.
In the days when I wore a younger man’s clothes, and actually had hair, I was never able to keep track of a personal comb. I was forever breaking it, playing with it, setting it down, or simply losing it. I was “comb careless,” and when I needed it I never had it. It was the same way with hope. I was full of the false confidences of being in charge of my life, and when I ran that life off of the road, I would stubbornly forge ahead. Inevitably stuck in a ditch of despair, I would finally look for the help of hope.
Too often it eluded me, and I would realize once again that I had been “hope careless.” I had set hope down, I had walked away from it, I had broken it, or I had simply lost it. Curiously, it was often right there at my feet, but I would step over it, or around it, or kick it along not bothering to just stoop down and pick it up. I was as blind to the presence of hope as others had been blind to the presence of the comb.
As the people of God, we should be people of intention. We should be people who intentionally pick things up, people who are not blind to what is at their feet.
I am the comb whisperer.
Ted Furlow is the director of Pastoral Planning in the Diocese of San Bernardino.