Yesterday I went into a shop owned by a woman named Eleanor, and her family. Her dad was a silversmith, her mom created cards and prints and Eleanor is a jeweler. I was immediately struck by her warm and welcoming way. Florence is a city teeming with stores and shops and restaurants, and there’s a distinct difference in passion, knowledge and motivation between those who own the shop and those who work there. Eleanor welcomed us and immediately began telling us their story. Her father is a silversmith who bought out the inventory of a different shop and opened this one with his own crafts and those he had purchased. Eleanor picked up his skill, except where he creates carafes and cups and pretty silver boxes, she creates earrings and necklaces and bracelets. Now they have over 80 artists who display items there and Eleanor knows not just every artist, but each piece of their work. She can take you to any item in this crowded little shop and tell you the story behind it and why it would – or wouldn’t – be lovely for you. She spoke with obvious pride in her store and her parents and helped me find the perfect pair of earrings and a hand painted Christmas tree ornament. I will treasure them for the rest of my life.
The man in the shop next door to Eleanor is an older, Italian gentleman who speaks next-to-no English. His tiny, tiny shop (there is only room for two or three people at a time inside) is crowded- literally floor-to-ceiling with copper pots and wooden bowls and shelves of olive oil and lemoncello. He sells fresh grapes, figs and tomatoes outside, as well as table cloths and long wooden slotted spoons that look like they have been used by Italian mamas for decades, stirring pasta sauce or ladling soup into those beautiful wooden bowls. It’s the kind of shop that overloads your eyeballs and senses and if you have any sort of story-reflex, you immediately begin imagining life on a Tuscan farm, gathered around a long dinner table with music and candles and delicious aromas wafting about.
He welcomed us into his shop with a warmth and affection that jumped right over the language barrier, pouring wine into plastic cups, while he and Whit used hand motions to communicate. I don’t know what he was saying, all I know for sure is: He was glad we were there. His shop was the place where his truest self lives, where he offers his work to the world, where he welcomes friends and strangers, providing something that they might need, and a glass of something they might want. It was beautiful.
Every day of my sabbatical, I have been reading Matthew 13, for reasons that are important to me but wouldn’t be that interesting to you. One verse that captures my attention every time is this one:
“Then you see how every student well-trained in God’s kingdom is like the owner of a shop who can put his hands on anything you need, old or new, exactly when you need it.” Matthew 13:52
When I visited Eleanor’s shop, I had read that verse two dozen days in a row. Yesterday, it came alive in front of my eyes. I want to live like that. Like a shopkeeper, who knows the treasure hidden on the shelves and lives to help others find what they need, when they need it. Instead of an hourly employee, simultaneously peddling and protecting a belief system or code of conduct – I want to be the one who pours the wine into plastic cups and welcomes in the wandering and wondering. The kingdom, it seems, is a lot like that.