April 2024
Leaves from My Notebook
Elaine Greensmith Jordan

My Saints

The worst bed I’ve ever slept in was in Dolores, Colorado. It was part of our accommodation in a bed-and-breakfast there. The setting was a remote ranch, a place where horses grazed in green pastures and a lovely pond shimmered in the distance. We parked our car in silence, aware of space and quiet and tall trees at the edge of a meadow.

We found this humble hostel at the end of a deserted road and were pleased to be in a western movie. However, when we were shown our room, we spied the bed — a tired-looking thing that seemed to contain remnants of other visitors who’d lain there. It was a creepy moment. This was a serious problem, but seemed our only choice.

As my husband and I gazed upon this miserable pallet with its plastic cover over a tired mattress, our hostess walked in the room. She didn’t apologize; she stood at the end of the bed looking pleased and generous and rather saintly. There was something in her eyes that stopped me from saying anything, and I couldn’t complain to her about the awful bed.

We took this trip years ago, but the ranch, the bed and the hostess have stayed in my memory. I clearly remember the next morning. We’d accepted the inevitable and survived the night without incident, but did not sleep well. Brenda, the hostess/innkeeper, prepared our breakfast, but I barely noticed the food — a first for me. Instead, I was riveted by Brenda herself.

A young mother with three children and an infant, Brenda had a presence that you seldom encounter. This young woman’s face mesmerized me. She radiated a spiritual beauty. It belonged in a frame with a halo and felt out of place in a humble ranch setting. Or maybe that’s where such saints are found.

I instantly recognized a special person in this young woman. She seemed to embody goodness, a virtuous, spiritual, authentic blessedness. I do not often spill over with effusive praise, but this encounter left me needing words of admiration. Someone should paint this woman’s portrait, I thought, though it would not be possible to capture that glow, that perfection, unless the artist was gifted. This was more than beauty; it was saintliness.

Some people speak of the angels that guard them, keeping watch, keeping them safe. Do those angels have form? Physicality? I’m told that they don’t. Believers see them as supernatural beings with gentleness and protectiveness. They don’t stir oatmeal at a ranch stove. Brenda was her own sort of angel. She appeared in a kitchen offering her goodness to a family — and food to her itinerant guests.

Was my enchantment from that restless sleep? Was it morning hunger? I don’t think so. I was bushwhacked by a presence. My husband made no comment about breakfast or Brenda. I don’t remember what happened next, but I imagine we paid our bill and returned to our car and our trip with mixed thoughts of Brenda and the bed.

I wish I knew whatever happened to Brenda and her family, but I don’t. I must be content with a bright memory. If I’d asked her where she learned to be so beautiful a soul — and I couldn’t put into words what I saw — she would have stared at me in disbelief. All she actually did was put down her spoon and see me, listen to my words in the chaos of that kitchen. She made everything right with her presence.

I have to conclude that there are people in the world who really do seem to radiate a kind of glory. They make the moment shimmer like the sunlight on the pond in the meadow. They transform the place where they stand. They bring the calm of healing. Today I think of a local friend, Karen, a person like that. She’s been badly injured in an accident, but she sits in her hospital bed radiating benevolence. She’s not a martyr, despite terrible wounds; she’s a healer in her suffering. Because I know Karen, I’ve confidence that around the corner might be another saint.

Above my monitor here in my study are photographs of my family: my father’s six sisters and my mother’s handsome siblings, all of them survivors — people who’ve known poverty, bad luck, desertions and losses. Some are more saintly than others, but most are regular folk, keeping on with life. They make up my heritage, my story, and I’m proud of them. Saintliness appears in them at times — and in me, I suppose, and I’m grateful, but when a beautiful saint fixes your breakfast in Colorado, you’ve been touched by something beyond ordinary goodness.

Moral of this story: It’s more important to be in the presence of an exceptional person than have a perfect bed for the night.

Elaine Jordan, author of Mrs. Ogg Played the Harp, is a local editor who’s lived in Prescott for thirty years.