Sometimes it’s hard to love the place where you live. Which is why, two years ago, I gave myself a challenge: every day for forty days I’d find *one* thing that I loved about Roanoke, Virginia. Then I’d go home and write about it.
From now until mid-October, I’m taking Mondays and Tuesdays and sharing excerpts from my gratitude journey with you. I hope these little posts give you a glimpse of the city through a newcomer’s eyes, and I hope they encourage you to help me share the sense of belonging that I’ve found here.
This post represents one of the first moments of real connection I experienced with a Roanoke strange. It still makes me smile.
Gold Leaves, Gingko Trees & a Stranger’s Blessing
Sometimes, the best moments are unplanned.
Yesterday, in a sudden burst of spontaneity between running errands, I deviated from my plan for the day. Driving down 581, I swung the car onto the exit ramp toward downtown, floated over the bridge, past the art museum, and down the main drag, Campbell Avenue.
I parked the car, a funny little expectant smile on my face.
The destination I had in mind was Century Square — a miniature park tucked between two tall buildings. There’s an alleyway of tall ginkgo trees shivering their spare arms above the brick pavers. There are leafy arbors that let the light through in pointillist stabs of green. There are park benches, two burbling fountains, and skaters zooming from one side of the square to the other.
There’s also a series of carved columnar sculptures — each dedicated to one of Roanoke’s sister cities: Florianopolis, Brazil; St. Lo, France; Opole, Poland; Kisumu, Kenya; Lijiang, China; Pskov, Russia; and Wonju, Korea.
It was a good reminder that, though I sometimes feel a little lonely in this small city, the whole world is just a breath away.
And so I breathed. I wandered from one end of the park to the other, tilting my iPhone up to photograph the branches of the ginkgos where the vivid yellow light caught and held. Contrary to my usual tendencies, I took some of the photos in color — which felt like a stretching out toward something good.
After awhile, I got on my knees and photographed the fallen, fan-shaped leaves, trying to get close enough to see their tiny pleats.
And then I got up.
As I moved toward the other end of the park, a voice caught me:
“I just love watching you do that.”
I glanced sideways. A woman with a sweet smile was sitting on one of the park benches, eating a lunchbag meal. She wore a nametag from her place of work — “Denise,” it read — and the sun flickered around her where she sat.
“Are you a photographer?” Denise asked.
“No — no, I just like to take pictures.”
And we talked.
We talked about how we love ginkgos. About how they drop almost all their leaves at once, overnight, leaving the foliage in little golden pools around their feet.
We talked about my blog. About my desire to love this place. About *her* love for this place. And even about our shared love for our dogs — both shih-tzus.
She finished her meal. Packed up.
Before she left to go back to work, she gave me a blessing. She used the word “God.” And while I know people mean different things when they say such things — and sometimes they mean nothing at all — I really did feel blessed. Divinely so.
I walked back to my car carrying the blessing with me.
I carried it like a secret gift all the rest of the day.