My friend Lucy is 8 years old. She's about as big as a minute and has huge round eyes that are green as a gourd. And she has a head full of tight curls that, without anything else, would have endeared her to me. Lucy loves her dog Frannie, "High School Musical" and beating the grown-ups playing Wii. It is one of the great joys of my life that I got to stand with her and her parents as a judge signed the papers that confirmed what we'd known from the beginning - Lucy belongs to us.
Lucy's mother is a high school basketball coach. One of the girls playing for her this year is my namesake Graham and her parents, who I introduced to each other our first week in law school, are dear friends, so I had lots of reasons for going to the game last week.
I normally sit directly behind the bench. I'm closer to the game there and the inevitable berating of the referees by spectators who know less about basketball than I do about brain surgery is easier to ignore. On this night, however, I took a seat far up in the bleachers with Graham's mother, brother and grandparents.
Lucy was wandering around the gym like she owned the place and, about halfway through the first quarter, she climbed up to where I was and asked, "Can I have a dollar?"
I opened my wallet and counted out the coins. "There you go."
"Thanks," and she went skipping down the bleachers like a goat over rocks.
A moment or two later Graham's grandmother tapped me on the shoulder. "Is there some reason," she asked tentatively, "that that little girl picked you out to ask for money?"
I, along with Graham's mother, who knows Lucy and my connection to her, burst out laughing at the same time. It took only a minute to explain, but a week later I'm still pondering the whole thing.
First of all, there's the question of whether I really am the kind of person of whom a child, any child, would ask for help. If Lucy hadn't known me, if she hadn't known anybody in that gym, is there anything about me - the way I looked or walked or talked to other people - that would make her think that I could be trusted to help?
But Lucy did know me and, because of that, she did not think twice about finding me and asking for money. She did not hesitate, once she'd made up her mind that a pack of gum was what she wanted, to go straight to someone who could help her get it. And, best of all, she didn't feel the need to wheedle or manipulate or even convince me that her request was a legitimate one. "Can I have a dollar?" Direct and candid.
Which raises the next question: Why is that so hard for us adults? Why do we so often feel that, even with those with whom we are most intimate, we have to preface our requests with evidence of, first, our general worthiness and, second, our specific need? Why can't we just ask, secure in knowing that where the ability to fulfill the request exists it will be granted?
The last few years have presented me with plenty of opportunities to revisit and reexamine my personal theology, the concept of a God who is big enough and powerful enough and attentive enough to be concerned with the welfare of each individual human being. There have been moments when the flannel graph image of a smiling Jesus in blue and white robes seated on a rock and surrounded by a passel of smiling children has seemed anything but believable and that business about becoming like a little child has seemed more saccharine than sacred, more condescending than convincing, more witless than workable.
And those moments, coming one after another, can leave a person with the idea that it is better to go lacking than to ask and be refused.
Until someone like Lucy comes along. Someone who doesn't know any better. Someone who isn't afraid to ask and, consequently, is always ready to receive.