on complimenting strangers and sharing our chicken dinners
This might be my favorite comment thread ever.
My beloved partner/best friend/husband died suddenly a year ago last December. On the anniversary of his death, I hiked up to the Quarry, a gorgeous meadow surrounded by high cliffs that had been a favorite outing of ours. I had been there many times since his death and had begun carrying small stones in my backpack with me. These were stones that we had collected on our hikes and travels over the years. I was slowly building a small cairn near a boulder off the beaten track. Eventually I put some of his ashes up there, too. I grew to find great comfort in hanging out there in the vast silence of that lonely place and feeling his spirit with me.
On the anniversary of his death, on the way to the Quarry I was asking for him or God (tell me the difference) to give me a sign of his presence somehow. Something out of the ordinary. And when I got to "our" spot, in the bare tree nearest his boulder, there were about 100 small birds -- chickadees, titmice, juncos. It was rare to see any birds there except vultures and eagles way overhead. This blessing of birds came from Joe, I was sure.
Then as I was walking down the trail, back to my car, I saw a man walking ahead of me, limping. I caught up to him and asked if I could help him in some way. He was a young man with long curly black hair. (I'm old) He asked if I could drive him to the train station so he could catch a train back to NYC. I said sure. I gave him my walking stick and we made our way to my old Prius.
We chatted as we walked and rode and he turned out to be lovely. He was a student and had medical books in his backpack. I told him about my husband's death. He said, "One way to honor the dead is to talk about them. Tell me about your husband." I did tell him a little about Joe, thinking what an unusual young person this was. I felt doubly blessed on that day. I said to him, "Are you an angel?" He said, "I don't think so. Are you?"
Well, right in the feels with this one. Thank you for that.
Last November, I lost both of my in-laws in the span of 6 days to COVID. It was a brutal loss for all of the normal reasons and a few additional ones, too, namely that they’d refused to be vaccinated, so my (severely immunocompromised) wife and I hadn’t visited them in a couple years. I also tended to avoid the routine phone/FaceTime conversations with them because I didn’t want the exchanges to end where they always seemed to, with some judgment-tinged, passive-aggressive commentary about the faith I’ve long abandoned. (“No, it abandoned me,” I learned the hard way, would not lead to better understanding.) So, anyway, they died suddenly and I was in a fog.
Turns out, people still have to eat when in a fog, so I found myself in Whole Foods three days after we lost them both. In the checkout line, my cashier that day — a warm and jovial, heavily-tattooed bald woman (we’d exchanged pleasantries over our mutual love of ink before) — SAW me in a way I wasn’t prepared for. All these months later, I can’t recount the exact words she said to me, much less what I said back, but I can tell you that I walked into that grocery store in a bad, bad place, but left feeling — because she so beautifully cared for my threadbare soul — validated in my fucked up grieving process.
It took me months before I’d summon the courage to thank her for what she said that day, mostly because I knew there was a not-zero chance I’d dissolve into a puddle of tears if I tried. I finally did, though, a couple weeks ago. I told her (after leading with the classic “not to be weird, but…”) what she meant to me that day and how she changed the trajectory of my grief. We hugged. There were tears. It was gloriously weird.
I don’t know what I believe about god anymore, but if she exists, I hope she’s a lot like my friend at Whole Foods.
For over 20 years as a pastor I felt the weight of Evangelical responsibility to “make everyone believe the way I believe.” When I first heard you say “I’m not responsible for what you believe; I’m responsible for what I teach” - it was a life changing moment for me in my healing.
My first thought, I recall, was when I was going through chemo and stopped at Whole Foods late one night for juicing celery. I circled the fresh flowers eyeing and smelling and shared small talk w/ a young lady yet don't remember our conversation. When I went to check out the cashier brought me a bouquet of flowers that the woman had purchased and wanted me to have. Beautiful memory.
As I was leaving the vet's office after having our beloved poodle, our first dog, put down, I was sobbing and a woman stepped out of an ancient Datsun and said to me, "You are in a hard place. It will not always be this hard."
I work for the EPA. In my 35-plus years of government service, it is very rare to hear the following "thanks for your service". The last time was in an elevator in a downtown Houston hotel post Hurricane Maria. I held the door open for a woman to enter. She thanked me, and then looked at my logo-polo shirt and said "thank you for your service". I was stunned, thanked her and then got off on my floor, entered my room, and then cried.
My mother was many things, but a baker was not one of them. Baked goods were the domain of my grandmothers and my mother’s repertoire was limited to boxed cake mix or every 2-3 years she broke out the rosette kit. Rosettes, those light, flaky cookies made with a decorative iron shape dipped in batter that was deep fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Whenever she made these, there were so many, that plates of them were given to whoever came to mind. One year she dropped off rosettes to a recent widower friend who prided himself on restraint and propriety at all costs. According to my mother, he received her platter of rosettes with formal and abrupt thanks and immediately closed his door. She attributed his manners to the recent loss of his wife. A week later my mom received a note of thanks that detailed his surprise at her thoughtful gesture because rosettes were something his wife had always made that time of year. He had been overwhelmed at the door and unable to thank her adequately. In recounting the story, she was awed that she was able to share an unexpected message of comfort.
Pr. Nadia, it was you. Several years ago, 2013(?),my husband, daughter and I had come to CO to visit our son and daughter-in-law. It had been a rough time for my daughter had realized she is gay and her marriage had ended. In addition, the church she had attended and served told her she could be gay or Christian, but not both. We had been to House for All during a previous visit, but our daughter was not with us. I had shared your writing and New Orleans Dome talk with her, and she was looking forward to the service. At this visit, she was sitting on the aisle before service and you just casually began to chat with her. At the end of the service, my daughter said, "I could stay here forever." I have thought many times over the years of sharing this with you, so thank you for this space today. Your casual and accepting conversation was one of those God moments you unknowingly facilitated. And the wonderfully, accepting congregation of House for All held it all that day.
At a time when I was listening to no one, my doctor broke through. I was near death from alcoholism, and she said, “You need to go to AA TODAY, and you need to get a sponsor. See a therapist, talk to a minister, you need to treat yourself as though you are on fire, because you are.” I did precisely as she said, and nearly 13 years later, I haven’t had a drink since. She was my angel.
In my first few weeks of getting sober, this girl Catherine called on me at a meeting. I have no idea what I shared, but I’ve always remembered what she respomded, “Yes, I saw you last week, you look good.” I felt like I had won lotto!! Someone remembered me???? Now it’s more than 30 years on and last Friday night I popped into that same room and there she was leading the meeting!! I got to thank her for her kind words that meant the world to me in those early days of sobriety.
I work with families lies of premature babies when the babies go home. This baby had spent months in hospital, had surgeries and received chemo at 6 lbs. When I called mom, it was evident to me she was depressed. I was depressed also for different reasons. I tried to get her to go to crisis center/ ER. She declined. I dropped the work lingo and shared my story with her, my attempt at suicide as a teenager, and my depression as decades later I try to make sense of my life. She finally realized she was not alone. She was sitting on her bed with a bottle of pills. We called 911 together and she got the help she needed and is doing well. She was an Angel to me that day as I realized also I was not alone and sharing our stories are powerful and useful.
In 2002, I was at work, busier than a one armed wallpaper hanger. One of my coworkers was giving a tour of our plant to her Sunday school special needs kids. They had been given lab coats and employee badges with their photos and were over the top with excitement. As they passed down the hall, one little girl broke rank and made a beeline to where I was at the printer. With a huge smile on her face, she threw her arms around me and gave me the best hug and declared she really wanted to work here someday. I hugged her back, told her I hoped she would work with us someday, and she skipped back to the tour group. She could never have known how stressed out and sad I felt knowing that after work, I was taking my Border Collie mix Annabelle Blue to help her over the rainbow bridge. She was an amazing soul and graced my life for almost 13 years. That little girl left me with a blessing I will never forget.
Sorry for the length, but today’s post hit home.
We rescued a totally undisciplined 14-month-old boxer/lab who, after 1.5 years of training, became a Therapy Dog. One August day, we went to our usual shift at a NeuroSpine outpatient therapy center. It seemed like a waste of time, since many clients and staff were away on vacation before school started. Then we were asked if we’d see a juvenile client, a 9yo who had just received her first prosthetic leg and was struggling, physically and emotionally. We asked if she’d like to pet Bo. After declining, we stood and chatted w her PT and realized she was stroking his ears. When asked if she’d like to “walk” him (we carried a second, shorter leash), she said, Yes. What happened next was nothing short of amazing. She went from tentative, rigid steps to a confident walk around the “little” gym, then the large one. There were few dry eyes at the end of that hour, but many smiles.
It was the day my minivan was killed in a freak accident, literally taking one on the chin for Team Mom that day. The police officer had been and gone ... the driver who hit me was cleared to leave in a still-functional vehicle ... the people at the semi-truck lot (in front of which my van was parked on the sidewalk) had gone back to the office ... I'd called my husband to come and help me and was then on the phone with the insurance company. While I was distracted, a man came along the sidewalk, pushing a bicycle. He stopped to chat with the driver and maybe passengers on the city bus when it pulled up to the stop near where my van was parked. But he didn't get on the bus; he just stayed on the sidewalk. He never approached me or asked what happened. He just hung out and waited until my husband showed up and it as clear we belonged together. Then, as if he were satisfied someone else was there to watch over me, he left without a word. However, I have always regarded him as an angel -- there just to keep an eye out for me in the midst of a distressing situation.
I was on a train from NY Penn to Delaware, heading to a funeral. My good friend had lost his wife to an aggressive cancer. I had prayed for her healing. Many had prayed for her healing. She was a very good woman and an example to many. I was deeply, deeply saddened and 'lost'.
On that train, I found myself sitting opposite a man who told me he is a bishop of some denominational church in Delaware. So I asked him why I only ever read about miracles and never seemed to have my own prayers answered for the healing of very sick friends.
He said he didn't know. He added that he himself had asked for miracles but they had not materialised as he had hoped. He did however, say that he had first-hand witnessed the miraculous healing of a woman. That was a light-bulb moment for me. Miracles do happen and we should pray for them - but just because we don't have our prayers answered the way we want them answered in the time we want them answered and in the manner we expect, doesn't mean we haven't been heard. As an old-timer said to me: 'There is a God - but you ain't Him'