'Miracle' restores girl's perfect dress

They'd found the perfect dress: modest and stylish, with white bodice and black skirt.

For the daughter, a sweet 15, it was the dress of her dreams, one she hoped to wear often.

But after one wearing, and a first visit to the cleaners, the dress was, it seemed, ruined beyond repair.

The cleaners insisted it was the store's problem. The store said it was the cleaners' fault.

In a world where so much is so wrong, this may not seem important. But if you've ever seen a shy young girl delighted and happy, feeling pretty and sure of herself, you know the dress that helped her feel that way matters.

"It took us so long to find this one," the mother, one of my congregants at Temple Or Olam, told me. "Everything was too short, or strapless, or .... "

They dreaded looking for a replacement.

"Give me the dress," I said. (I had a miracle worker in mind, whose family has been in the cleaning business for generations.)

I took the dress to Young's Cleaners on Church Street in Concord. Same corner, same store, same family since 1941.

The owner, Martin Young, is a deeply religious Christian. He knows I have led the only Jewish congregation in Cabarrus County for many years. Our conversations inevitably and happily include anything from prayer to pastoral counseling.

Martin has cleaned yellowed and damaged lace from my wedding dress, and mantels for my congregation's handwritten scroll of the Five Books of Moses. He has counseled me on taking care of myself and my family. He has become my friend.

"Can you do anything about this?" I asked.

Martin looked at the dress.

"We'll know by Thursday," he said.

Later, the phone rang. I expected the mother, but it was her daughter.

Her voice sparkled: The dress, she said, looked beautiful! It was amazing! I had made a miracle! How could she thank me?

The perfectly restored dress was Martin's doing, of course. But I asked her to send me a picture of herself wearing the dress.

"And," I said, "it would be lovely to see you in the dress myself. Would you wear it to the party we're having after I am ordained?"

Her mother called a few minutes later. Like her daughter, she is not the sort that gushes.

"Omigosh, when we set eyes on that dress...." she said. "It's amazing what he did."

We are in this world to help right wrongs, to care for the needy, to do good. The world so needs our help for so many reasons. Sometimes I despair when I see how much there is to do, how little I can achieve.

But this little story will make me smile for as long as I remember it: A good, hardworking man made a quiet, modest, hardworking young girl as happy as she deserves to be. The miracle we made grew out of our own respect and affection for each other.

If the world only had more of that, it would be a miracle.