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by Jason Nemrow last modified 2018-03-29 15:42

So many things had happened to lead to this day, it made Rachel pause to realize that it was almost her fifty-sixth birthday. Time had passed like a whirlwind and there had been so many bazaars, as she called them, in the past, but this one would be especially dear to her.

As always, Rachel's backyard was decorated gaily with balloons and streamers in bright colors. Parents milled about, clothing ranging from suits and Sunday dresses to jeans and tee-shirts, each according to their ability to dress for the occasion. Tables were spread with the pot-luck dishes that each family had brought and a few parents stood guard over the food, warding off little children who had more stomach than manners. It was a beautiful day, not hot or cold, and Rachel breathed in deeply and smiled broadly. This looked to be the biggest and best bazaar ever!

Not every bazaar started with such promise. Some had been terribly small and a few years she had not even bothered to plan one, for the children had begged her to cancel the event so they would not have to perform. If there was one thing she knew, Rachel could never neglect a child's desire. In fact, it was the desire of one of those children that had made these wonderful events possible.

Not long after her thirty-fifth birthday, the money began to run low. Rachel's father had amassed quite a nest-egg, but no amount of money lasts forever. Rachel realized that she needed to start earning an income. After just a little thought, the obvious struck her: She should teach children the penny theatre. She had torn out many of the walls in the house to create a dance studio for herself. What a wonderful idea! She already had everything she needed!

Advertisements went out the next week in all the city's most fashionable magazines and even a few were seen on television: there was a woman who would teach children the traditional theatre dance of their nation. At first, the response was enthusiastic and very nice cars could be seen parked in her driveway, though it was in the poorer part of town. But after a few months, Rachel was reduced to only two students, neither of which were excited to be there.

Rachel didn't know exactly why she wasn't succeeding, but other people would whisper that she was some sort of zealot, telling subversive stories instead of teaching dancing, wishing not just for students, but for converts with heads full of strange passions and silly dreams. The rich folk began to shy away, also because the penny theatre was rather low-brow and beneath the picture that was in mind for their children. After only five months of effort, Rachel dismissed her last few students and desperately sought another plan. At this low time, Jennifer came into her life.

Just down the street from Rachel's home, the houses became small and somewhat shabby. Many were owned by people who lived far away and cared little for their state. The people who lived in those houses were small and shabby themselves, made little by their back-breaking toil and dressed in worn second-hand clothes because of their poverty. Across the way and thirteen doors down lived a ten-year-old girl with her family. She was a little shabbier than some, and for three years now, her height was measured from the spot where the rubber of her chair wheels touched the ground to her rather poorly-cropped hair. Rachel had seen Jennifer on occasion, wheeling herself down the street to the grocery store, and it was there, when Rachel was making her daily trip to deliver cherry muffins to the store owner (who had grown quite fond of them), that the two finally met.

That day, the grocer had pointed out how good the apples were and Rachel was prodding a few with her finger, considering a purchase. Suddenly, Jennifer wheeled into the aisle, nearly knocking the woman down. "Apples?" the girl asked with puzzlement. "I thought you were into cherries."

Rachel raised a brow and looked sidelong at the girl in the wheelchair. "Well," she replied with a sigh, "variety is good."

The girl considered this. "A few years back," Jennifer said knowingly, "you didn't do variety." She stuck out her hand and introduced herself. "I'm Jennifer Mead."

Rachel took her hand almost absent-mindedly and shook it slowly. "Um..., I'm perplexed!" she admitted. "Are you some kind of spy?"

Jennifer looked up at her and smiled, shrugging. "Naw, I just see you around a lot. It isn't hard to see what you are up to." She wrinkled her nose. "Nothing too sneaky."

"Well, then," the older woman replied, shaking the younger's hand more vigorously, "I'm very glad to finally meet you, Jennifer."

After this first meeting, Jennifer would come to Rachel's house every week or so, wheeling herself expertly about the sidewalks in between. Jennifer's family didn't seem to mind her absences from home and Rachel discovered that the girl's mother was pleased that the handicapped girl was enthusiastic enough about the visits to actually get out of the house. The older woman didn't want to discourage her and actually looked forward to the visits from the girl in the wheelchair.

Summer was particularly lush that year and when school was out for vacation, Jennifer's visits became more frequent and her time spent at Rachel's house grew as long as the summer days. They would sit in the front yard, drinking lemonade, and talk. After two weeks, subjects of conversation were beginning to dry up, so Rachel hit upon the idea of telling the girl the stories that her Gramma Jo had taught her when she was a girl. Jennifer was perfectly capable of sitting in her wheelchair, resting an elbow on her knee, and cupping her chin in her hand for hours, so the woman was very grateful she had a large catalogue of tales to draw on.

Seeing the woman sitting in her front yard under a spreading shade tree, telling stories to a chair-bound girl was enough to catch the neighbor's attention, but when Rachel would rise and dance a little to the story, even the most reclusive took notice. Curious children from the neighborhood would come to listen and watch. Jennifer, who seemed to know them all, would invite them to sit down and be more comfortable. As July began, and the days grew hot, Rachel found that she had a rather steady following of six to eight children who would be on her lawn around ten in the morning and stay until 2 or 3 o'clock in the afternoon, sipping lemonade and listening to stories that she acted out for them. The parents of the children were just happy to have the kids out of the house and doing something non-destructive. It also certainly helped Rachel keep her mind off of her dancing lesson woes and looming money problems.

One memorable day, it was simply too hot to stay outside, so Rachel invited the children inside, as her studio was more than large enough to accommodate them all. The children couldn't resist commenting on the strangeness of her house, lacking the traditional living or dining rooms and being completely open except for a tiny kitchenette and Spartan bedroom that occupied one corner of the space. Rachel explained that this was a place designed to allow dancing inside and she used it to practice every day. The children were curious but accepting of the explanation and set themselves down as she told them another tale, pantomiming the actions of the characters as best she could.

After a story or two, Jennifer asked a question. "Why did you change your house just to dance?" Rachel was a little surprised by the question, but answered readily enough as the beams of the afternoon sun began to slant through the windows and the children munched quietly on whatever lunches they had brought, listening intently as the woman delved into the story of her life.

Rachel told them of her wish for a knight in shining armor to rescue her from her evil father, and of her grandmother's love and understanding, and her six-year-old birthday present of a visit to the penny theatre. She even told them about her prayer to someday dance at the penny theatre herself. Each child seemed to find in some part of Rachel's story something they could understand and relate to. Rachel also told of the struggles of her growing-up years and the young man named Robert whom she had loved, lost, then found, then lost again.

"Did you ever see Robert again after that day in the army tent?" Jennifer had listened to her story with enthusiasm.

Grimacing visibly, Rachel spoke in spite of the still-smarting wound that pained her whenever she recalled Robert. "No, I haven't seen him again and I don't think I will in this life." She paused, sighing and holding back deeper emotions. "In the mission that stopped and turned back the invasion, I'm told that Robert was killed." Her voice cracked as she spoke. She had long harbored hope that Robert would really turn out to be alive and return as her knight, but now she had to pursue other dreams instead. Jennifer grew quiet and thoughtful with Rachel's sudden emotion, not wanting to cause the woman any more pain. The moment passed and the other children begged her for another story which Rachel gratefully obliged, but the girl in the wheelchair remained silent the rest of the afternoon, wrapped in thought.

Days passed into weeks as the heat continued, roasting the under-watered lawns and driving all indoors to climate-controlled comfort. The children, shepherded always by Jennifer, missed hardly a day with Rachel. Quickly, the children began moving themselves from spectators to participants, wanting Rachel to help them learn the stories and how to move their bodies. Rachel never intended to start the children dancing, but it seemed to come by some natural evolution from watching to doing. A steamy afternoon in August would find the dance studio filled with little bodies, turning and flowing, moving to some unheard tune that the tale put into their collective mind. The stories took on new meaning as the children made themselves part of them through dance. She didn't quite know how, but either by destiny or by the subtle manipulations of the children, Rachel had become their dance instructor.

Not long after the children made the move to being little dancers, Rachel began to receive little gifts left on her doorstep. At first, she would find small loaves of bread and paper plates of fruit, but as time passed, the presents were coming in Styrofoam coolers and were full-course meals. Rachel never knew who was doing this, and never made any effort to find out, but she would leave the empty cooler and the washed dishes that the food had come in on the front door step and every morning, the plates would be full of food again and protected in the cooler. A few weeks later, inside the cooler, she found an envelope with money in it. Rachel felt a little uneasy about all of this, but she figured that the gifts were not left on her step in error, so she was grateful every day for the blessing.

The parents of these children began to notice and get a very high appreciation for what Rachel was doing. The stories she told and burned into each child's memory through their dance were filled with courage, charity, love, and hope, and it began to affect life in each home. Better than any school or program could do, Rachel was transmitting hundreds of years of morals and indigenous values that had once steered their nation, but had been thought lost by all the experts. Each child, in their own way, found something of value to them that was good and began including it in their natures. Each child, that is, except Jennifer.

The girl in the wheel chair still enjoyed going to Rachel's house with the other children, but as the others moved on to this new level of participation, the girl with the imperfect body was left behind. While the other children pranced about under Rachel's tutelage, Jennifer could only sit and wish to do those things with them. 'Perhaps someday,' she would tell herself, wearing a smile that was sometimes only skin deep. She was in therapy, but progress was pitifully slow -- she could wiggle her toes some now, but she couldn't lift her foot a millimeter without aid. She could not dance.

Rachel did her best to include Jennifer in the tales, but she always kept herself a little apart, contenting herself to just watch. Just because the girl didn't see a way she could be a part of the tales, that didn't stop Rachel from trying to find a way. The inspiration came to her one night just as she was going to bed.

"You want me to arrange a performance?" Jennifer lacked enthusiasm when Rachel proposed her idea the next day. "What kind of job is that?"

Rachel knelt beside her wheelchair and took her hand. "I once knew someone named Beatrice who you may remember as the woman I admired on the night I prayed to God that I might dance on the stage of a penny theatre. I haven't told you what happened to her. A few years later, she was in an auto accident which made her unable to dance. It broke her heart, but not as much as it pained her when the theatre building closed for a time and her players could no longer tell their stories and inspire others. Even though she could not dance, she was determined and found the funds to reopen the theater, because she knew that the true magic of the tale and the dance comes when it is shared with others."

The woman stood and motioned to the other children as they acted out one of their favorite stories. "Do you see how much they have worked to learn to dance and to memorize the tales? They are better for it, but I want them to feel the joy and magic of sharing what they have learned with others. I want them to know how it feels when I tell stories to you."

Jennifer looked at her hands, folded tightly in her lap, and simply nodded for a moment. Then she looked up at her friend with tears in her eyes. "I would like to do that," she said haltingly," but I want you to promise me something first."

"What's that?" the older woman asked, cocking her head.

The girl's eyes were filled with desire. "Someday, I want to feel the magic of performing a tale."

Rachel bit her lip. "I don't know ..." But then she looked into those eyes again and knew what she must do. "Yes," she said finally. "Together, we will find a way."

So now, twenty years have passed since that first small bazaar that showcased the budding talents of those original children. Jennifer wheeled herself expertly around the backyard, which had been arranged some years before to accommodate her chair. After several years of friendship, the young woman had moved in with Rachel. She was in her thirties now dressed in an outfit reminiscent of Rachel's worn pastel dress, welcoming parents and guests warmly, reprimanding wayward children playfully, talking in whispers to a man who came to all the bazaars and who Rachel didn't know, and basically doing what she had always done: making the bazaar a success.

Everyone got their plates, passed along the long table, taking this and that from the pot-luck dishes, and sat down to eat. The children had to hurry through and Jennifer reminded them that they still needed to change into their dance clothes. Rachel, as she customarily did, let the younger woman handle things, just enjoying the chance to chat with the parents about their children.

Jennifer was nervous on this occasion, even more than normal. She fussed over the children's outfits to the point that they sent her back outside just as the adults were finishing their dinners and assembling at the small section of rowed folding chairs. The young woman acted like she was sitting on a porcupine but Rachel laid a soothing hand gently on her leg and Jennifer tried to be more still.

As was customary, the children themselves had decided what tales would be told, and neither woman was surprised at their choices. The first tale was a favorite about a shy dragon that gets the courage to finally face a knight who becomes his friend. The second concerned circus animals and dental hygiene, while the third was a low-key love story. The parents and friends clapped wildly after each, the children alternately with beaming smiles and red cheeks. Even the mystery man grinned broadly, enjoying the show. Then, the grand moment had come and Jennifer nervously wheeled herself onto the little worn patch in the lawn that served as a stage. She took up a butterfly net and tried to be calm as a young boy came to the fore and announced the last tale.

Once upon a time, there was a girl who dreamed the most wonderful dreams, and with all her heart, she wanted those dreams to come true. She would wake every morning full of excitement and anticipation about the coming day, knowing that this was the day when one of her precious dreams would come true. She would hope and work toward them, but sadly, she would wait, day after day, and her dreams would not come true.

In the center of the make-shift stage, Jennifer sat in her chair, hunched over with a sad expression. Now and again, a child would toss a handkerchief into the air near her and she would bring up her net and thrash it wildly in the air, but the kerchief was never caught and the woman would slump again, sad and holding her net listlessly.

One day, the girl met a little boy, who also dreamed dreams, but, unlike her dreams, his were very small and simple. For the girl who had always dreamed large things, the boy's dreams were so easy to accomplish, so she helped him and soon, his dreams were fulfilled.

A young boy came into view, chasing handkerchiefs tossed above him, but having as much luck in catching them as the girl Jennifer played. As the boy came closer and closer to the woman, she took up her net and deftly caught the handkerchief with it. When the boy finally got his prize, he kissed Jennifer lightly on the cheek and ran off, leaving the slightly blushing woman in his wake.

The boy ran off in joy and told the world about the girl who could catch dreams and had helped him. Soon, many little children came to the girl, begging her help in realizing their dreams. The little girl became so busy helping others, that she nearly forgot her own dreams in the excitement of helping others.

The air around Jennifer was busy with colorful handkerchiefs, cheering children dancing about her as she bit her lower lip and flicked the butterfly net back and forth, gathering the flying bits of cloth as quickly as she could. As she caught each, Jennifer would offer a cheek to the child she gave the kerchief to and they would give her a kiss and run off. Again and again, the cycle would repeat, until the flow of children began to peter out.

When the children had their dreams, the girl was left to herself, and she began to wonder again about her own dreams, so long forgotten. As she again pursued them, the dreams didn't seem so far off and with some effort, she was able now to accomplish them.

A big white handkerchief was lofted into air, and with a couple of tries at it, Jennifer had it in her net. Another kerchief was caught, and another, and another. The woman smiled broadly as she held her small pile of cloth in her lap and a little boy beside her, kissed her a last time, and addressed the audience.

It is good to dream dreams, even big dreams, but we must remember that life is not meant to benefit us alone. Sometimes we must help others accomplish their dreams and then ours become more attainable. Remember that it is through the generosity of God that we are able to dream at all, and by following the example of His Son, by helping others, we are ultimately helping ourselves.

The children bowed and curtsied and Jennifer bent her body forward in the chair, accepting the wonderful applause and hoots and whistles from the people in the folding chairs. The woman beamed as she looked at Rachel, who wiped the tears from her cheeks and clapped all the harder for her friend who had waited so long and patiently.

The mess of the bazaar was picked up (mostly) and the families and friends and the mystery man had gone home, but still Jennifer was heady with the excitement of the day. "You were right!" she sang as they sat at the tiny kitchen table that night, finishing off a dish left by one of the families. "It is good to know the stories, but it is far better to tell them and see the way it inspires people. It really is magical!"

After Jennifer was in bed, Rachel sat up in her mother's old rocking chair that now sat beside her own bed. As she rocked, she thought of the story she had created for the younger woman and sighed. When was her butterfly net going to work? When would she catch her own dreams?

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