Sunday, December 19, 2010

Holiday Miracles

The wonderful thing about Sedona is this sense of connectedness that complete strangers have with one another. Maybe living in a postcard evokes that sense of 'all as holy' in everyone. I've had profoundly meaningful conversations in parking lots, grocery stores, and on trails.

But yesterday, there was something Christmas-story-miraculous that happened between two strangers. Actually, there were about six of us present, but I was fully present with only one- (let's call him) Mr. Smith from South Dakota.

I was sending off a package for Christmas, and it was 9:30 in the morning. I was the second customer in line. There was an elderly man standing in line behind me, and several others behind him. With complete extemporaneity, he says, "I've been married for 63 years, you know."

I turned around and smiled.

"Really?" I said. "That's quite something! Congratulations to you!"

The man behind the counter looked up too, smiled, and continued his packaging.

Mr Smith continued, "I married the love of my life when I was 26 years old. Now, I'm 89."

My smile swelled, and I said, "I'm so happy to hear that. You must be having an amazing life together."

"Yes, we are," he says, "but I've outlived two of my boys. We moved here from..." and he continued for several minutes telling the story of moving from South Dakota to Sedona.

Right there. In the brightly lit UPS store with cardboard boxes and packing tape at attention, greeting cards pronouncing "Welcome to the world, Baby!" and "Get Well Soon!" He said it. He outlived two sons.

My heart literally sank. The others in the room missed the painful disclosure that surely cost him and his wife years and years of pain, tears, and suffering. But I heard it. (Sometimes I wonder if I wear an invisible "safe-hearer-of-trauma" sign or maybe I just hear the real stories beneath the sanitized versions?).

We spoke for several more minutes, and he shared that one loss was many, many years ago, a baby boy he would "never forget" and that one was his grown son about 20 years ago. As the clerk was putting the final touches on my holiday delivery, I turned and took his hand.

I looked in his eyes and I said, "Thank you for sharing your sons with me. I am profoundly sorry that you've outlived your two boys. No parent should ever have to outlive their child. I will think of them this holiday season, as I am sure you will miss them both."

He looked at me, tears welling in his eyes.

"Thank you," he said softly. "Thank you."

I don't really know his name, and I don't know if I'll ever see him again, but in a single instant, the magic of shared memories, laden with both love and tragedy, brought forth a moment of shared mourning and compassion between two strangers.

I got into my car but didn't start it. Instead, I cried. I just cried.

The best gifts we can give to one another are the gifts of pause. Love. Remembrance. Compassion. Intention. Kindness.

That's where the holy lives. That is where we give, and receive, the miraculous.

And that was my holiday miracle. Thank you, Mr. Smith.


The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night. Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.

--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul

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