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It was on the porch of a carriage house in mid-coast Maine where I received one of the great compliments of my life.
Don Nash, the owner of the summer rental, said: “You were brought to us by divine intervention.” Betsy Nash, his wife of 45 years, burst into a smile of agreement. I'd been vacationing at that carriage house for a decade, my escape from Washington, D.C., and nature sanctuary after another demanding year of high school teaching.
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"Divine intervention.” That wasn't a phrase my ears were accustomed to. We secular Jews from the New York City suburbs didn't carry on heartfelt exchanges in the lexicon of Christian theology. To a new friend, we might say, “Wow, how lucky our paths crossed,” or “What were the chances?"
Yet, I grasped the heft of the compliment instantly. As a teacher of American literature, I had a reverence for the Puritan writers who observed the workings of God's hand in human history. While I wasn't a descendant of that tradition, I felt honored to be a recipient of God's grace.
Different roads to the same place
It had been a random click on a vacation website that had landed me at Don and Betsy's — a picture of a simple cottage beside a quiet lake catching my eye.
The first summer, it took a minute to fall in love with the place. My hosts oriented me with Maine friendliness to the closest beaches and best lobster rolls. The screened-in porch with the wicker rocking chair was ideal for reading and listening to the wind. The wooden dock at the lake offered, with one joyful plunk, a descent into clear water.
Porch-and-dock time meant that, slowly, I started to get to know my hosts. Sadly, we had nothing in common. That is, if you apply the lens of widely held demographic categories.
Politics? One Democrat, two Republicans.
Backgrounds? One native of wealthy Westchester County raised with this script: Study hard, go to a top college and join the corporate elite. Two natives of mill towns in western Maine raised with the script: What you want, you build.
Build they did, I learned. An electrician and nurse who raised two children and delighted in five grandchildren. A couple who, with hammer to nail, built the two houses they lived in — one where they raised children, one where they retired.