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The Broken Vase

When my son was a toddler, we accompanied a friend on a visit to one of her friends. We were in the neighborhood, and it was one of those spontaneous decisions, a drop-in visit that you would only consider doing with somebody whom you have a close relationship.

She graciously welcomed us into her beautifully decorated home, and I quickly surveyed the room for potential disasters at the tiny hands of my inquisitive little boy. I think they call that intuition, but every mother knows how quickly such things can happen. Our hostess, sensing my apprehension, assured me that although she had no children, she often entertained small ones and that nothing was off limits. I tried to relax.

I think we had been there all of ten minutes when my son walked over to a rather large ornate, obviously valuable, vase and without hesitating, pushed it onto the floor where it shattered into hundreds of tiny pieces. There was a long moment of silence and then the loud wailing of baby tears.

Unsure of what to do, I immediately began to gather the shards of glass with one hand while trying to prevent a toddler meltdown with the other, all the while muttering my apologies. I could feel my cheeks turning red, my embarrassment palpable.

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I should have had been paying attention. Please let me know where you bought it so that I can replace this for you.”

She simply smiled. “That’s not necessary. It’s old, something I’ve had for years.”

Dang. My kid had just destroyed some precious family heirloom.

“Don’t give it another thought,” she said.

The next day I sent her flowers, which I considered a small consolation prize for what she had lost. But I don’t think she realized what a priceless gift she had given me that day. She readily and sincerely forgave, all the while allowing me to save face. I was incredibly grateful.

And that lesson has stayed with me. Many years later, I had a coworker come to visit. As we sat in the “preacher’s parlor,” a rarely used formal room where all the tchotchkes were displayed, her son casually walked over to a low table and reached for an ornate figurine that had belonged to my mother. Before either of us could stop him, he had picked it up and, misjudging the weight, let it slip through his little fingers. We both stared in disbelief as slivers of porcelain lay scattered across the floor. She scooped the child up in her arms and scolded him. He began to cry at this mother’s displeasure while I ran to get the broom and dustpan.

“Please don’t worry about it,” I said, fully understanding how uncomfortable she was. “Children are inquisitive and that was an inexpensive trinket.” I hugged them for good measure.

Her face softened. “Thanks,” she whispered.

Life is somewhat circular. What goes around often does indeed come around in ironic ways. But sometimes, that becomes a lesson in grace, an opportunity to maintain respect for oneself and others. Those moments are golden.

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