I could try to explain what we’re up to with this issue by promising pinholes of light in a darkened sky, or beckoning hope in a troubled and troubling world. But we all know the clichés.
I’d rather ask you to read the story by the inmate serving time at Indiana’s Westville Correctional Facility whose learning and imagination carried him far beyond his prison walls. Or suggest you follow the discoveries of the grounded world traveler who found what he needed closer to home. Or recommend the writer who sees in our crippled consumer culture another path to virtue — in the lost riches of simple living. Or I could point to essays in CrossCurrents by writers coping with isolation and racial eruptions, or to the artist’s road trip seeking solitary deliverance in a landscape both real and redemptive.
Instead, I will tell this tale.
Kathryn Mapes Turner ’95 is an artist who lives in Jackson, Wyoming. You may remember our profile about her — “Painting a Sense of Place” (Autumn 2018). She walks in her neighborhood every day, and had noticed a house where a dog lived in a detached garage, often barking, seemingly alone. While worrying about the dog, she responded to an email from church — a woman was asking for volunteers to take food to her elderly parents. One day Turner, who does not boast of her cooking, took chicken fingers to the couple.
It was they who owned the dog. They were too old to walk their beloved black Lab, Heidi. Near the end of their visit Turner asked if she could walk Heidi, and daily for the next six months she did. Eventually Turner adopted the dog, but the artist and Heidi continued to visit the couple. The visits continued even after the woman, suffering from dementia, passed away, leaving her husband of 72 years a widower living alone.
A few months later Turner was asked to paint a piece to raise money for Jackson’s fine arts festival. Hobbled by surgery for a torn ACL she suffered in a skiing accident, Turner painted while on crutches, understanding she’d get half of the proceeds from the auction, with half going to the charity. No one knew the lady who paid $60,000 for the painting.
The widower died this past January at age 93. Heidi will turn 14 on Christmas Day. The buyer of the painting was the elderly couple’s daughter. She appreciated what Turner had done for her parents. It all began with a simple meal and a heart that opened to a lonesome dog and the elderly couple who lived in a house down the street. A minor act of kindness that made a difference in a few lives in western Wyoming.
Not all such stories get told. And we need not all be Father Bob Lombardo ’79 or Jorge Azcarate ’19M.A., whose big stories are recounted on these pages. Little gifts carry grace and goodness, too. That’s what we’re up to in this issue: providing a lighthouse and buoys when the world might feel like a rough and rollicking sea. And to offer reminders — even when life feels brutish and mean — that it’s still all right.
Kerry Temple is editor of this magazine.