On the island of Kauai, near the town of Kapa’a, at the head of Opaekaa Falls, lives an 86 year old man named Fred.
If a visiting couple–on their honeymoon, say–were to pass by on a cloudy Christmas day and happen to catch Fred in his yard, he might call out to them.
He might say, “Hey! Are you visiting us?”
“Yes,” they might call back and stop, mid-stride, relieved for the break from a non-committal jog they embarked on mostly out of a rain-induced malaise and holiday nostalgia.
Fred might wave them over, and they might watch him cross his yard, bend with a surprising amount of dexterity toward the freshly mown grass, and pick up a perfectly five-pointed, pink plumeria, yellow pooling from its core.
“Here,” he might say to them and hold his hand out. “This one is pretty. And this one too.”
He might lean over then to inspect another flower.
“Thank you,” one of the honeymooners will say, the bride probably, and hold the pink plumeria up to her sweaty ear.
“People use them to make leis,” Fred will say. Despite his spryness, Fred might not notice that he has stopped the couple in the middle of a workout. That, or he thinks workouts less serious business than plumerias.
“You have nice teeth,” he might say to her then, suddenly, causing her first real laugh of the day. “Take care of them,” he says.
He will tell the couple about crossing the continental mainland of America five times in his youth. He’ll make them guess his age. Seventy, they might say to flatter him, but they will still feel shock when he says no, eighty-six, and shows a whole set of teeth with his grin.
One of the honeymooners will finally explain that they have no way to carry the two plumerias, because they’re headed two more miles down to the sea.
“You’re going ALL the way down?” he might gasp. “Oh, to be young again.”
“Listen,” he’ll say. “I’m going to place these flowers in a paper bag and put that bag right there between the mail boxes, so you can pick them up on your way back.”
On their way back up the mountain and into the inland jungle of Wailua, the couple might cross the street from left to right, noticing the Danger signs that mark the ledge near the waterfall. They will feel curious and skeptical about the bag of flowers.
But there it is. A brown paper bag between two mail boxes, folded pristinely at the top into two hems.
They might open the bag them, expected one pink plumeria and a slightly wilted white plumeria. Instead, they might find twenty flowers–red, pink, white, and yellow–stuffed to the brim of that bag.
In their rental cottage far removed from seaside resorts and condos, they’ll steep the flowers in a small glass bowl filled with water and set the bowl, blooming, by their bed.
In her sleep, the bride will dream she has grown old. In her dream, she will wear a long dress that billows at her feet. At her feet, a yard sewn from soft petals. She might wake late that Christmas noel to remember the story of Bethlehem: the manger, the inns with no more vacancies. The simplicity of the divine and our call to welcome the stranger.
She might think, of course, this is the best any of us can do, especially in the second halves of our lives. Her Christmas gift, a lesson that says: Let us gather the flowers from our yards before they wither and brown, let us offer them in plump bundles to strangers, passersby and young people, that they might wear the flowers like tiny sunbursts in their hair as they walk to the shores and stare out over the wide horizons of their new lives.