Once upon a time…
In an idyllic family town, blanketed between the majesty of the mountains and muses of the warm blue sea – something, one day, remarkable happened.
This is that story…
The town was buzzing. New stores and restaurants were popping up everywhere. The schools and the businesses were bustling with life and activity.
Many people of this family town chipped in together to reimagine a wonderful new place – they called it “Veterans Gardens.” It was a beautiful new place, with five ‘gardens in the park’ to picnic, to read, to take in the quiet and the romance of the day. A centerpiece were three spectacular courts to play the game of bocce; replacing worn, decades-old picnic tables on a buckled slab of cement.
Veterans Gardens had a lovely flagpole near the entrance with stenciled words on a cylinder at its bottom. You couldn’t really read it at night. Who doesn’t love a flag.
The town prepared a fabulous opening day party for their new addition.
One night, a mysterious, unwelcomed, aggressive guest came to the town. Covid. A virus so wicked and mischievous that the wonderful people of the town were unknowingly spreading it to their very own friends and family.
It shut down the opening party – it shut down everything in the town.
Jobs. Restaurants. Schools. Vacations. Stores. Churches and synagogues. Movie theatres. Traveling. Even holidays were hardly holidays at all.
The town got bitter. Grizzled. Negativity sifted up through the soil, permeating and hardening everything.
Mouthpieces of the media and politicians on the far-left and the far-right divided everyone in the town. It pricked relationships with friends. Even with family.
The town’s senior citizens (the fastest-growing group in the town) got hit the worst. They were all stuck in their homes for months and months and months – with nowhere to go and no one to see. They couldn’t even go to their churches and synagogues.
Some people in town even died. When they did, their families and friends couldn’t even be by their side.
The long days of a spring, and then a summer, and a fall, and winter slowly chipped away. The town, and its heart, was chipped away, too.
A long year passed. The people in the town had enough. Many of the people took an action to try to run Covid away. It was working.
Sure enough, the soil began to thaw. And slowly, so did the people of the town.
The owners of stores and restaurants began to open their doors. People came out on the sidewalks.
And at the town’s Veterans Gardens? It patiently waited for its guests. It was announced bocce leagues were starting on their yet-to-be-played-on new courts.
The most remarkable thing happened.
It was the morning of the lunchtime league, and senior citizens arrived one by one at the park. One hundred and sixty from the town; with their spouses, with a friend, and many by themselves — many in their eighties and nineties.
The same thing happened at their Thursday Evening League. One hundred and thirty more from the town!
When they first arrived, very few knew each other. Only a few knew the rules or had any idea how to play this game of bocce.
It was a breathtaking smorgasbord of folks from the town – from every neighborhood and every possible financial status, every race, creed, shape, you name it.
Teams were formed, in many cases, with complete strangers – with only the town that connected them.
But like bougainvillea vines, they naturally intertwined – creating the most delightful team bouquets.
And then they realized something they never knew. They didn’t come to play bocce at all. They came for something else.
To be touched.
Touched by a team of new friends – that cared about each other. That rooted for each other. That really, really liked each other.
They realized they didn’t want to talk about politics, or religion, or world affairs. They wanted to talk about whether they should go for a left-railer – or set a nice sweet short one down the middle.
They were touched by the kindness. They were touched by the compliments. They hugged. They cuddled next to each other for pics on the benches.
And after a great shot, some even danced. All by themselves. With the purest, childlike joy. They were the most beautiful dances you’ve ever, ever, ever seen.
Seniors, that never knew each other, stayed after to have picnic brunches with their new friends. Seniors that weren’t able to play — were coming just to watch. To cheer something on.
And the players? They got good. Folks picked up the game and the court strategy at a speed that even Darwin would have been impressed with.
And one night at twilight, as the slight breeze of the ocean’s mist danced against the sweet aromas of the town’s mountain air — the flagpole spoke.
The players came over to look at the flagpole’s cylinder. It was stunningly lit with a golden hew, and its stenciled words that no one saw before – streamed out on the ground around the flagpole.
The players said the words as they saw them appear. Family. Dreams. Integrity. Humanity. Courage. Heart. Hope. Community.
And then, and only then, they knew what they meant. They knew why they were there.
The words told the story of the town. Of the best of all of them. And the best of what they dreamed to be.
And the words told the story of those from the town who came before them to protect those very words.
They thought about themselves. And their children. And their children’s children.
In the quiet of that moment, they hoped, as days and years would pass, more might stand here at this spot.
To see, and feel, and know the wonder and beauty of what a town means.