Thursday, April 17, 2008


Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special attention to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstances, are brought into closer connection with you. ~Augustine of Hippo

Last week I took the fine young gents to the park to play with friends. They took off roly-poly, pell-mell, tumble-bumble to roll in the green grass while I poked along behind. A woman crossed my path on her way to sit on a bench in the sunshine. I smiled. I thought she looked lonely.

I glanced her way from the top of the grassy hill a little later. It looked as though she was wiping her eyes a little.

While playing in the sandbox, one of the fine young gents stepped in...something...and I ran to the car to get wet wipes for his foot. The woman was still there on the park bench, watching the birds and the clouds.

"Isn't this sunshine gorgeous?" I said with a smile and a wave.

"It is. It's nice to get outside," she replied. "I like to come here." She went on to tell me that the park was one of her favorite places to relax with her husband. Then she quietly told me he'd died of stomach cancer the week before, and that she'd be travelling out of town soon, so she'd come to sit in the park they'd enjoyed together. Of course I told her I was sorry for her loss, and added that I was glad that we had good weather so that she could come to that spot and remember him.

I wanted to give her a hug.

But fine young gent had something nasty on his foot, and besides, one just doesn't hug strangers. They might think it's frightening or creepy. So I headed back to the sandbox. But I wished I had been brave enough to give her a hug anyway.

Time for choir. The fine young gents ran to the car, zig-zag through the daisies, stopping to pick the little purple flowers scattered across the lawn even though I was insisting as gently as possible that if we didn't hurry we'd be late. As we approached the bench, the woman smiled at me. And I trusted what my instincts had been telling me: This woman needs to connect, that this is a moment when kindness and comfort will be welcome, and I have that to offer. So I approached her and asked if she could use a hug, and she nodded her head and opened her arms. The sweet wonderful young gents filled her hands with the tiny flowers they'd picked. As the boys climbed into the car, I stopped and just listened to her. She told me about her husband. She told me a little about their marriage. She said that they never went to bed angry, that his philosophy was "Let's teach and learn from one another when we disagree." Lovely. What a little gem, a gift, that thought. She told me her name and a little about her Native American heritage, about her grandfather and about her plans for the near future.

We only talked for about ten minutes, but it was ten minutes well spent. We were late for choir, but it didn't seem all that important.

I'm not sharing this because I want you all to think, "Wow, she's so cool. She hugged a stranger in need." She's just been on my mind ever since. I'm sharing the story for three reasons:

One, Well, it's on my mind. In my head, out on the blog. Blog therapy.

Two, Why don't we reach out to strangers? I think it's not only because of the whole stranger-anxiety thing, or "what if they think I'm weird." We're social creatures meant to build lasting relationships with those around us. It's one thing to chit-chat with the gal behind you at Starbucks; it's a whole other ball of wax to form a meaningful connection with a person you'll never see again.

Three, I finally realized yesterday why she'd affected me so much. I was driving down the street, doing driving thinking-- you know, the time you can let your thoughts spin around in your head because you're not distracted by "Mom!" and the phone and stepping on a Lego or tripping over the dog. Sometimes a thought surfaces that's been patiently lurking for a while waiting for your brain to be not busy. Anyway, driving along. I started to cry, because I realized that the woman made me think of my dad and his loss. Our loss. I'd recognized grief the first time I saw her, the tiredness and loneliness and sadness. I wanted to offer comfort when I heard her story partly because she's a human being, and partly because I can't hug my dad because he's so far away. So I hugged her instead. And listened to her talk of someone she loved.

Hug your loved ones. Smile at the people around you. Help when you can.

Life is good.


living in PA said...

Thanks, Cat. That was lovely.
That woman was lucky that you and yours were at the park that day. You were probably just the person she needed to meet at that point (and it sounds like you needed to meet her as well).

Elizabeth said...

Thanks for sharing that Cat!

Julie R said...

Cat...that is amazing. And to think, if you hadn't said hello, it her loss would've touched so many less people. She has us ALL now out here...thinking of her, wanting to hug her...and counting our VERY many blessings. As I sit here with tears in my eyes I think of several is that you should write a book. You have an amazing way with words and SUCH life experiences to share with the world! Thanks for posting this, Cat.