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.


caitsmom said...

Wow, Joanne. This is beautiful. Truly. What gifts you exchanged--a vulnerable heart sharing a life/love story, and a sincere heart hearing and acknowledging that story.

And this statement resonates with me--"Sometimes I wonder if I wear a sign that says: 'If you've had a traumatic loss or two or three, feel free to share your suffering with me.'"

I feel like I'm the repository of all things death--people just seem to know that I'm the one who can "take it" or who will listen.

Dr. Joanne Cacciatore said...

Repository of all things Death, indeed.

Thank goodness there are people like you willing...

Thinking of you and Caitlin...

Gaurav Verma said...

That's so beautiful...more beautiful as you have shared the feelings. Those are the feelings which separate humans and machines.

Do visit my blog too:

Tina said...

That is amazing! I think so many of us struggle with having the right words to say, therefore often times nothing is said at all. How wonderful of you to just be there to listen and offer him some consoling words. You are amazing and I will be thinking of you and your sweet Cheyenne this Christmas. Thank you for sharing her with us. xx

~The Helbert Fueglein Family~ said...

Thank you for sharing that--I will link it to my Theo's Christmas Stocking Blog if that's ok. I so know what you mean too--things like that happen so often to me. I believe that there must be something, an energy, an aura, something we give off that let's other people know we know and we can handle their pain. Love you Jo.

Charlie said...

Couldn't agree more. The value in a moment's compassion defies measurement.

Missy said...

What a wonderful experience that must have been, tears and all.

Sophie said...

Wow. Tears and more tears. This is beautiful Joanne.

Ya Chun said...

It is a gift to have someone listen.

Anna said...

Beautiful, Joanne.

And you very much do carry around the gift of a safe bubble for people to share. It's in your very presence.

Dr. Joanne Cacciatore said...

Thank you all for reading and for sharing. Those who have seen the abyss and faced Death - as many of you have- are the ones who can make a difference in the world. In a profound and indescribable way.

Holly said...

Amazing encounter that just hearing about gave me tears! There is an elderly gentleman in my church that lost a baby many years ago around 7 months gestation. He talks to me of his baby and I listen. I know he doesn't talk to others about this. There's just always a connection, an understanding to those who have lost children.

Christine said...

sitting here in tears. thank you for sharing that beautiful story.

Sarah Bain said...

YOU always make me cry! Sigh...Okay, fine, not you, but Grace and Mr. Smith and all the other childlost mamas and papas. Oh, that means you too. So yes, you do make me cry! Sigh...which is why I love you so much!

Anonymous said...

Wow... thanks for sharing this. I bawled my eyes out. I bet you made his day (and a few more to come). Priceless...

Tony Previte said...

I would expect nothing less from you Joanne. I've had many of those conversations over the years as well. Have a great Christmas! :-)



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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