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The Amazing, True Story of Anne Simpkinson’s Hat

24 Oct

Last year, my colleague and dear friend, Anne Simpkinson, told a bunch of us this wonderful, magical story about her gift of a hat from a stranger in, of all places, a parking lot in Monroe, Louisiana.  I begged her to get a headshot taken of her wearing the hat, so we could post the story properly.  After many complicated twists and turns, she got the picture, and here it is, with permission from Anne and Guideposts, where it was originally published.  Enjoy! (You will.) 


An Unexpected Gift Brought Strangers Together

Some people are so generous that they would give you the shirt off their back.  I  met a woman who gave me the hat off her head.

By Anne Simpkinson, New York, New York

One spring a couple years back, some colleagues and I were in Monroe, Louisiana, on business. We had plenty of time before our flight home, so we stopped for brunch. Between the main course and coffee, I slipped away to the restroom. I was walking through the restaurant, past other tables, when I noticed an African-American woman. She looked to be in her sixties and there was something so striking about her it was all I could do not to stare.

She was decked out in a lovely floral dress edged in lace. Atop her head was a hat with a profusion of lush and elegant white roses. A stunning Easter bonnet, even though it wasn’t quite Easter yet. But more than what she wore, I was struck by how she held herself—with a grace that only age, experience and wisdom can confer.

The strangest impulse hit me. Stop and tell her how beautiful she looks in that hat. But I caught myself. There was a teenage girl sitting next to her at the table and a middle-aged man op­posite them—probably her granddaughter and son. I couldn’t intrude on people I didn’t know, and on a family meal, no less.

The feeling persisted, but I talked myself out of it. She’ll think you’re crazy, I told myself. So I kept walking. On the way back to my table, I passed the woman again, and again I didn’t say a word.

But when I saw her a third time, with her granddaughter in the parking lot after brunch, I couldn’t help myself. I blurted out, “I have to tell you. Your hat is beautiful. And you wear it so well!”

“Why, thank you,” she replied.

It felt good to say that, I thought, heading to my rental car. Just as I was backing out of my parking space, I heard someone shouting, “Ma’am! Ma’am!”

I looked back. The woman and her granddaughter were waving frantically at me.

Did I drop something when I stopped to talk to them? I thought. I turned off the engine, got out and walked back to them.

“I’d like to give you my hat,” the woman said.

“Oh, no, I couldn’t take your hat,” I protested.

“My grandmother always taught me that if someone wanted what I had, I should give it to them,” she said firmly.

Truth was, I didn’t really want her hat. I hardly ever wear hats. I just loved the way she looked in it.

Then it occurred to me that this wasn’t about the hat. This was a gift being offered by a stranger, an act of generosity for which there was only one response.

“I will accept your hat,” I said, “if you will be so kind as to place it on my head.” Just like the compliment, the words came effortlessly.

The woman nodded. Then, with her granddaughter standing beside us, beaming, she lifted the hat off her head and slowly set it on mine. Her movements were so regal I felt as if she were crowning me with roses.

We threw our arms around each other and hugged, strangers no more.

“Thank you,” I told her. “You have such a big heart.”

“You have a big heart too,” she said.

I walked back to my car and waved to the woman and her granddaughter as I drove off to the airport.

I wore the hat through security, all the way to my gate and onto the plane. I didn’t take it off until I was settled in my seat. That’s when I noticed the tag inside the band. It read, “Glory Crown.”

Back home, I googled the words. They were from chapter four of Proverbs: “[Wisdom] shall give to thine head an ornament of grace: a crown of glory shall she deliver thee.” How fitting! Once I had the wisdom to cast aside my inhibitions and trust the urging to compliment a stranger, I was graced with a crown of glory.


Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award