“Greet someone with whom you did not ride to church,” was the cheer filled instruction. The same one given in every Sunday service.
Obediently, I turned to greet the congregants behind me. She was ready and seemed to have been waiting for me to face her. Her gaze out of dark chocolate eyes was bright and direct. She bore faithful witness to the adage, “The eyes are the windows of the soul,” because I swear I saw her spirit looking out at me.
Her right arm extended straight from her shoulder in my direction. There was no thought of greeting anyone else.
She maintained eye contact as she shook my hand firmly and introduced herself. She did not smile but I could not help but smile in wonder and admiration at her poise and confidence. She was nine years old, slim in built, of African descent, with round cheeks.
I longed to engage her in conversation because everything about her suggested she would do so thoughtfully. As I began turning away slowly, hesitant to end the brief encounter, I glanced, almost involuntarily it seemed, at those standing next to her. I wanted to, had to see who had so nurtured this young girl. The slight smile on the face of the 30 something year old man who stood next to her, held the pride of a father. He must have seen the expression of wonder on my face during my interaction with her. His expression told me it was not the first time he had seen such a reaction to his daughter’s presence. He seemed to know that she knew her place in the world although she was still young. His body, slightly turned toward her, conveyed protection but also space for her to initiate an interaction and be applauded silently for doing so. I nodded, a silent salute, turned to face the platform, and sat, thankful.