All I can say is wow. The two of you worked hard to preserve my innocence in a world that seems so intent on corrupting it. And now that I'm out in the world, I realize just how precious a gift your hard work was.
As a kid, my exposure to the world was limited to Kroger, since it was the only place with people that I didn't know from church or co-op. Greeting others with a smile was natural for me since you taught me that it was polite to acknowledge the presence of others. So, I would dutifully give people a smile and chirp out a “Hello!" as I passed them in the frozen food aisle. I did so out of duty until that duty became a habit, and that habit became a lifestyle.
I always thought that the strangers' initial look of shock was due to the fact that two 10-year-old girls were alone with a cart that was loaded with six gallons of milk. Looking back, however, I wonder if their expression was not one of shock, but of humble surprise at being warmly greeted by two, little strangers.
Walking through grocery stores today makes me sad, because my initial desire is to continue that behavior from my childhood at Kroger. But the world has grown older since then, and I am met with irritation instead of gratitude, and anger instead of shock. Out in the real world, people are expected to ignore other people. Unless of course, you need them for something.
You always said that our practice of cheerful greetings was respectful, and that it was practicing good manners. But I realize now that it wasn't good manners that you were teaching me. A man can hold a door open for another, clearly exercising manners. But if his attitude is rushed and impatient, you feel guilty for inconveniencing him, and not humbled by his servile action. Were our greetings to strangers a mere practice of manners, we say “Hi, how are you?" in an angry tone, and still technically be practicing manners. But while saying the words may be polite, the action in itself would not be.
You shielded my childish eyes from the blinding shadows of the darkness, and pointed out to me the hidden rays of joy that were not immediately obvious to the eye. And now that I am in the world, there is no one to shield my eyes but me. It is a difficult job, and finding those rays of life are becoming increasingly harder. I'm grateful for how you protected my sight, and I wish with all my heart that I didn't have to take on that responsibility for myself.
You taught us the joy of hospitality, and the genuine pleasure that can come from treating others with kindness. And yes, the world is not a perfect place and it is full of imperfect people. But you showed me that I can be different, and I can show kindness and choose to see the little joys in the world.
I am grateful for the care you took in shielding me from the harsher elements of life, and am still learning how to do that for myself. My prayer is that your work laid a foundation that I will continue building on for the rest of my life. The world is a harsh place, but because of what you taught me, I can see the good and shun the bad.