It started with a flower.
I sighed and leaned against the hood of my car, out from under which poured clouds of hot steam. My keys lay useless on the pavement beside me. And I was late for work.
I was so busy wallowing in self-pity that I didn't see the little girl coming up the street. She stopped, looked at me silently, and then proffered the only thing she had to give: a small lily.
I watched her in perplexity as she skipped away, leaving me with this tiny, delicate beauty in my open palm. She was no older than five or six, wearing jeans that had holes in the knees and no shoes, with bouncing blonde hair and a radiant smile. When I decided that I was going to have to call a tow company anyway, so I might as well wait, I followed her curiously.
She noticed that I was tagging along and turned around. I approached her slowly, as though she were a wild bird who would fly away, disappearing into the sky with any sudden moves. "Why… why did you give me this flower?"
She shrugged. "Because you looked sad." She turned to continue down the street, following, it seemed, a small sparrow, but I caught her shoulder and held the lily for her to see.
"Do you do that often?"
She beamed up at me with her glorious smile. "Every day," she explained, "I give someone a flower. It makes people happy."
"But why?" I queried, more confused every moment.
She appraised me with a questioning eye, looking from my polished shoes all the way up to my neat tie and black jacket. After a moment, she asked simply, "Why not?"
And then she was gone, disappeared to join her swallow among the clouds.
"Thank you!" I called after her, then, softer now, "Thank you."
I couldn't keep my mind off her. A little girl, who could—who should—be at home playing Barbies and princesses… why was she roaming the streets, offering flowers to sad passerby?
A simple flower. A small lily. That's all it was, and yet, it made my day a little brighter. How could something as little as that make my life better?
And yet, I found myself doing the same. Small, simple acts of kindness. I cooked dinner for my wife. I took my kids to the pool. I donated some money to a charity fund. I helped my elderly neighbor mow his lawn. Small, tiny, simple things, and yet, I saw their countenances lift, just a little.
One day in October, four months after I met the little girl whose name I didn't know, the one who wanted to fly with the swallows, the one who cared about the people around her enough to make their lives a little better, I realized.
By small and simple things are great things brought to pass.
Over a cup of coffee the next morning, something in the daily paper caught my eye. I had been flipping through to find the sports section, and in doing so, I passed the obituaries.
In the bottom, right-hand corner of the page was a small, black-and-white photograph of a little girl with a radiant smile.
Without warning, my throat constricted and my vision blurred. I scanned the column. Terminal cancer, it said. A painful, year-long battle, it said. A relief, it said.
Not for the world, it wasn't. Because she was gone, no one would get a lily when they were having car trouble. Because she was gone, no sparrows would be able to fly with a little girl who wanted to soar above the clouds. Because she was gone, the world was a darker place.
And above the picture, bringing back so vividly the time she blessed me with her smile was a name. Jane.
With a strange, empty feeling threatening to overtake me, I took the paper and walked slowly out the front door and into the street. The rain, the blessed, cool, purifying rain, formed droplets on my upturned face. I blinked, and I knew that the water on my skin did not fall only from the sky.
"Jane," I whispered, holding out my arms to the gray, thundering sky.
With a jolt, I realized the paper was still in my hand. I gazed at it, reading it thoroughly this time. At the bottom, there was a sentence that made my heart swell with a broken, bittersweet feeling.
Mommy's little angel, Daddy's little princess.
God's little sparrow.