When I was a kid, all sixes and sevens and just barely adding up to thirteen, my dad gave me a valuable lesson. He said, 'Look at the people in your life who are good, the people you look up to, and figure out what makes them good. Then, work on being that way yourself.' I must have looked somewhat stunned at the moment, so he offered an example.
"Who do you look up to in your life? Who is a good person that you want to be like?"
My dad went on to espouse me of all the virtues of my grandfather, as if I did not already know them by heart. Bob is a people person. At any time, on any day, he could talk to anyone, and both parties would leave the conversation richer than at the start.
"What about hyacinths?"
"Yeah. The flowers."
"I don't know. He grows them in his basement. On the ping-pong table."
"That's right. All winter, they're there, doing nothing. Then, when it's springtime, they blossom. And they're beautiful to look at, and they smell wonderful, and you know what he does with them?"
"He gives them away."
My dad explained how Bob, without pretense or sinister intent or anything other than other-centeredness, would drive around in his massive grandpa car, and deliver the hyacinths to local friends. He would walk into a house full of boys and leftover plates of food and half pairs of socks mostly dirty from the fray, and he would stay for a chat, and he would always have a story, and then he would leave, the sparkling hyacinth still on the kitchen table.
And that's when the miracle would take shape.
You see, Bob was well up the road, likely negotiating some potholed turn or oncoming log truck, maybe enjoying the way snowbanks steam in spring sunlight while pine needles sink into their glistening crusty surfaces, when the hyacinth started to work. Of a sudden, the neighbor would be struck by its beauty. The fresh scent and the innocent pale petals would remind her of babies so many years ago. The soil would be perfectly damp and yet firm, and clean. Clean. She would start to clean.
It might be hours or days later, but the entire house, from cinder-blocked addition foundation to rough-hewn cathedral ceiling beam, would be clean. Every dish was polished and stacked neatly behind now-laundered cupboard curtains (the doors would be made next spring). Every sock had a mate and every tile, clean grout. The cracks between floorboards bore no witness to dusty new tenants, and served only to accentuate the character of carefully-laid planks. There was now a cloth on the table.
On top of the cloth, there were hyacinths.
"Find the good people; figure out what makes them good; be good like that."