My day had not started out so great yesterday (Wednesday.) I should have expected it, but I didn’t even give it a thought. I’m pretty sure it was the weather turning cold that brought on a major muscle spasm in my back. It was so bad I could hardly breathe. I lay there in the bed for a good amount of time, wondering if I was ever going to be able to get up again. Always be grateful for the things you can do, before you are left to wonder if you will ever be able to do them again. Every breath created a deep, dull ache in my back. It was hours before I could fully function again.
As the sun went down in the late afternoon, I needed to go to the grocery store, so I reluctantly decided that yes, I could do it. It was either go to the store, or go hungry. I walked around the store looking for the things that I wanted, and proceeded to the checkout lane when I was finished.
Before I knew it, a woman had latched onto me in a full frontal assault of a hug. She squeezed me so tight that I couldn’t breathe. She just kept her arms around me, saying thank you, over and over.
In the first few moments, I was quite certain that I had committed no act of kindness toward this woman. In reality, I had no idea who she was, or why she was holding onto me so tightly.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, she let me go, and took a step back. She asked if I remembered her. I’m sure I had the ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ look, because she told me her name, and began to thank me again. By this time, there were several people who had stopped to take pause to watch what was happening. If you know me, you know that having people in my personal space is way out of my comfort zone, and also having all eyes on me in this type of situation is also way out of comfort zone. I had to ask what she was thanking me for.
It turns out that several years ago, which seems like a lifetime, far and away, this woman took one of my classes and then came to my office seeking help. At the time she was homeless, sick, and running out of options. It all came rushing back to me as she kept telling me her story. The bystanders all seemed to be listening to her as well, but in the moment it was just her and me in the whole of the world. She was telling me about her apartment, her job, and the re-connections she had made with her adult children. I was wondering what any of this had to do with me.
She bluntly said, “If it hadn’t been for you, I would not be here now.” That statement still sits in my heart as I write this. My mind rushes back to the days we sat talking in my office. I search for the single moment that made the ‘big difference.’ It was the moment I chose to listen, to hear the story that lived inside of her in those dark days.
You might think this story is about me, and maybe even think I’m talking about how great I am or was. No, this story is about her and the deep amount of gratitude that I feel toward her, and having the opportunity to know that her life is different now. She’s made leaps and bounds of progress. She’s happy in her life.
We don’t always have the luxury of knowing the rest of the story. She could have just as easily gone on with her day as though I wasn’t even there. She chose to share her joy with me, and for that I will forever be grateful.
As I remember those days, working in that nonprofit, I recognize that I learned something way back then. Each person that crossed the threshold of my office was a piece of my strength, a piece of my courage, and a piece of my light. They were everything that I was not. They were everything I wished I could be. If it hadn’t been for them, I would not be the woman that I am today.
Thank me? No, do not thank me. It is I who should be thanking each one of them.
Sometimes it’s hard to breathe.