The Gifts of Goodness

By Marilyn Phillis

Marilyn Phillis is an artist interested in creative events that reach beyond the ordinary. She sent me this story in 2009 and, as happens sometimes, it seems to have been meant to wait for publication until now. She said, “There was such generosity of spirit attached to this special gift that it truly is a gift for all. It’s a story to be shared.” 



by Marilyn Phillis

Stephanie Rayner had a close friend who died in 2009. Her husband and three-year-old child were at the memorial service. The husband turned to Stephanie and asked if she would do something for them — would she make something for the little boy so that he would never, ever forget his mother? With a sinking heart, Stephanie agreed but had no idea how she would ever do such a thing.

Slowly and with much contemplation, Stephanie came up with an idea while going through her gathered art materials, finding special items that seemed like good choices for a small memorial. She first found a flamingo feather from her trip to Africa. It’s the symbol of the phoenix, a bird that is reborn from its ashes. She then found a little Tibetan bell and a blue cord with small brass hearts, then came across a lovely blue piece of Tibetan paper with blessings written on it in silver-gold. Stephanie saw a watercolor she’d done of pink and mauve clouds and placed it on top of the blue Tibetan paper. She began to assemble all these items into a workable form, but immediately ran into difficulties.

Her vision seemed impossible to achieve without some professional help in areas that lay beyond her skills. The photo she had been given by the father had the mother’s beautiful face but an unsuitable background. Wanting the very best for this child, she went to see the finest photographer in Toronto. After sharing the story with him, she asked if he could alter the picture. He listened, looked at the photo, and agreed to take on the job. Stephanie was astounded by the lovely change he made – he’d found a way to enhance the image by creating a soft halo around the mother’s face. When asked what the cost would be, he said he just could not charge more than a few dollars.

The next problem was to make a small door, split down the middle, which would open so the little boy could look at his mother’s face. Finding a master bookbinder with a sensitive approach to this job was a huge task, but Stephanie found one known for his ability to craft the finest books. He was quite gruff and the conversation was not easy, but when she told him the story his eyes welled with tears. Once again there was no charge — another gift from the heart.

The end of the process was to take the memorial to her framer, a master craftsman from Poland known as the best framer in Toronto. There would be no glass in the frame so Stephanie asked that it be made tough enough to withstand the handling of the three-year-old. When she returned, there it was — a beautiful white ash frame specially braced in the back and joined with all his skill to withstand anything. On the side of the frame he had put a little peg for the Tibetan bell with its blue cord and brass hearts.

Stephanie’s work was done, and she decided to go through the experience of touching the softness of the pink feather, ringing the bell, and gently unwinding the thin blue cord to open the doors behind which the mother’s image could be seen. Moving through this ritual, something most unusual happened — a rainbow appeared at the left in the watercolor of the cloud-pink sky she had painted and placed behind the mother’s image. In the 32 years she had worked at that table, a rainbow had never before appeared. How could this be? Stephanie took her camera and photographed the image, half thinking it would not appear in the photo. But it did.


Stephanie wrote a note for the little boy to read when he was older — the story about the photographer, the bookbinder, and the framer…..people whom he would never meet but who had lovingly given to the making of this small memorial. She put this note on the back of the frame along with the photograph of the rainbow that had appeared.

She delivered the finished piece to the grandmother who was caring for the child and gave her a task — to teach the child to touch the feather, to ring the bell, to unwind the cord to open the doors, and finally to see the picture of his mother. In Stephanie’s words, “Yes, he did learn to do the ritual in a quiet time with eyes closed to call to her, then to ring the little bell, stroke the feather and unwind the cord on the handles of the doors a certain way…..and then to open them gently, and there she is.” The little boy had a way to remember his mother.


Stephanie Rayner is a professional artist and international lecturer whose work deals with the great theme of our age – the transformation of our spirituality through the revelations of science and technology. It’s a theme that addresses a deep need and elicits powerful responses from viewers. The beauty and intelligence of her works have captivated the minds and souls of audiences worldwide.

Boat of Eternal Return, her most recent artwork, was a museum show in 2015-2016 in Canada and will be featured as a future post in WINN.

Her website is:

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Judith Sellers says:

    I HAD to switch from reading this as an email to looking at the website version to see if there was another picture of the work ~~~ and yes ! There is the fabulous little blue door, with the photo of his mother hidden behind. What a wonderful story. We all need heart warming these days, and your post did that for me. Thank you.

  2. Lydia says:

    I am a couple of chapters into reading “The Book of Joy” by The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (I recommend it!) and this lovely story fits right in! Compassion!

  3. sally burman says:

    this post is so very lovely -the story and the images are so heart warming- a gift! thank you Celia

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