donating pastels

Working at a museum typically provides fodder for cocktail chatter: kiddos on field trips, misguided gift shop purchases, light and fun stories. There’s little, if any, meaning-of-life conversation material. Except for yesterday afternoon.

I was on my way back to my desk and an older man came in our back door. People who don’t use the main entrance are either regulars or newbies — it was obvious that this man didn’t know his way around.

I introduced myself, probably threw out my best hey-there-I’m-Sarah-how-can-I-help-you.

I need to make a donation, he said.

My job at the museum involves fundraising, and just hearing the word “donation” gives me those dollar sign eyes, like the ones in cartoons.

Wonderful! I walked him upstairs and made pleasant small talk on our way. Weather! Hot enough for ya? Sure is! Glad fall is around the corner . . .

Halfway up the stairs, and he paused.

“Did you know my wife?” he asked. I drew a blank and shook my head.

“She died last week and I need to donate her art supplies,” he said.

Wishing I had something less generic to say, all I could muster was the simplest of sympathies: “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Once upstairs, he showcased his donations: cases of pastels, blank canvases, paintbrushes of all sizes. She was involved in our art classes, he explained.

With the help of a colleague, we took his donations and he vanished. My heart broke for him.

I never knew this man’s spouse — but today, I’m committed to celebrating my own. A funny thing happens when two sinners get married. We tend to want perfection in each other, even while knowing how totally imperfect we ourselves are. I don’t know what that man was thinking as he handed over his wife’s pastels . . . but he probably wasn’t recounting her screw-ups.

Imperfections and all, I’m committed to celebrating sweet Mr. S.

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