Thursday, December 20, 2012

Jewels


Last Christmas season I was a mess.  Divorce proceedings were in full swing.  My stomach was in knots as tensions rose and lawyers battled back and forth.  It was sickening and I just wanted the holidays to go away.  My son, far away in college, was not coming home for the first time in his life.  My future was uncertain, I cried constantly, and all around me were happy people, decorating, celebrating, and singing.  

Ugh.  I just wanted to be placed in a coma and awakened after it was all over.

This year?  Ah, I am making up for lost time.  The outside of the house is ablaze with lights, my tree is lit up most of the day, and I am decorating anything that stands still for more than three seconds. Don't believe it me?  

Here's my cat Zelda.




I wake up singing Christmas carols and I go to bed wearing my Santa socks. Both of my sons will be home this year and a Certain Very Nice Man will be joining us on Christmas morning for the opening of presents.  

In short, I am one happy woman.  Bring it on, St. Nick.  Bring it on! I am SO ready!

I was out for my morning walk the other day, humming along to the Christmas carol playlist on my I-Pod, when across the street I saw an older woman I recognized.   She had been our neighbor years earlier when we had lived at a different address.  Six months ago, I had seen her husband’s obituary in the newspaper.  She was walking slowly and seemed to be absorbed in thought.  

I thought about calling out to her, but selfish little voices inside of me just urged me to keep walking.  Talking to her might slow me down. It would be easy to walk on by. It had been over twenty years since I had spoken to her.  She wouldn’t remember me.  What good would it do for me to stop and talk to her?  Maybe she wanted to be alone with her thoughts.  If I said anything about her husband, it would be awkward and might make her even more sad.  

I listened that that insecure chattering for a few seconds and then a knowing arose inside of me and I called out her name and crossed over to her.

I had to tell her who I was and how I remembered her.  It was clear she was a bit confused and I really don’t think she recalled us being her neighbors.  I told her I had seen her husband’s obituary and how sorry I was to hear of it. He had always taken in our trashcans after they were empty.  It was such a simple, but kind act and I told her that I passed that kindness on to my neighbors now because of his example.  

Her eyes welled up with tears. She talked about his final days, how much she had loved him, and how she had taken care of him up until the end.  It was clear she needed to talk. Finally, she said,  “And here it is, December already,” her eyes drifting across the street to some decorations.  

Though our situations were different, I recognized what was the same.  I nodded, a lump in my throat, and said softly, “This will be a different kind of Christmas for you, won’t it?”  She seemed almost relieved to hear me say those words.  

She looked right into my eyes, nodded a tired nod and said, “Yes, it will be.”  

We talked a bit about how she would make it through the holidays and how much she would miss him, how she still kept his chair where it always had been and how empty it would be on Christmas morning.  

Finally, I told her goodbye, gave her a hug and said I’d be looking for her on my future walks.  

I walked away, my eyes filled with tears, my heart filled with a mixture of emotions.  

In talking to my old neighbor, I remembered last year and how lonely I felt, even when surrounded my loving friends and family.  I am grateful that my life is no longer like that.  I am grateful that now I feel true happiness and joy in this season. 

This may sound strange, but I am also grateful beyond belief that I remember so vividly the pain I felt last year.  

It has taken me a long time realize this, and even longer to appreciate it, but along with hideous, gut-wrenching, soul-sucking events there come certain gifts, and one of those, for me, is the gift of empathy.

I am embarrassed to say that I almost passed right by my old neighbor. It makes me wonder how often  we hesitate, listening to those small voices of our delicate egos warning us of the risk of rejection or awkwardness when instead we should instinctually reach out to others?

We all have gifts that we can give to one another.  Whether we do so or not is up to us.
  
As for me, this new reservoir of understanding and compassion has been hard-won. If I don’t use it to help others, then what’s it all been for?  

I never thought I would be grateful for anything having to do with the divorce, but I am finding that even amid the rubble of loss and the pain, some jewels have emerged that enrich my life.  

Just like most jewels, their real value and beauty come out when they are shared with others.



34 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

It sucked at the time, but last year's pain helped you understand hers. You did turn tragedy into a gift.
And if I visit, I'll remember to keep moving.

Cricket said...

A very sweet, touching post. Merry Christmas Betty.

Anne Gallagher said...

What a difference a year makes. I remember your heart breaking post from last year and just wanting to wrap my arms around in a hug. And look at you now, just 364 days later. I am so happy for you, how things work out when you're not even looking.

Have a wonderful holiday season, Betty, You totally deserve it.

Leah J. Utas said...

Pain is a gift once it's over when we, like you, can see what it brought us.

Zelda is showing remarkable self-possession given the circumstances.

Mamma has spoken said...

Great post and a great reminder that kind words can be the best gift this season.

Shelly said...

So utterly lovely.

Olga said...

and then a knowing rose inside of me and I called out

These words were the among the jewels for me.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Cranberry Morning said...

You are so right - the pain you went through brought you the gift of empathy. What a wonderful post. Hopefully this is the beginning of a better year for that dear woman - a few moments of kindness expressed by you meant a whole world to her. And it is good to hear that your Christmas this year is a happy one!

Today I Love said...

This is beautiful, Betty. A good lesson for us all to allow our tough times to shine through as empathy and action for others. So very glad the holidays are bringing you joy this year! May you continue to share it with others!

Hilary said...

Beautiful and touching, Betty. You have a wonderful way with words of the heart. And that bejeweled kitty is just adorable.

Daisy said...

Lovely post. I'm sure having you talk to her brightened her day and made her feel less alone. So glad to hear your days are happy ones now.

Unknown said...

Betty you have touched my heart once again. I have tears in my eyes and I know exactly what you are saying. I appreciate your blog so much. AND the best part is we have grown and appreciate how good life really is to us. THANK YOU BB. And. Merry Christmas. (Mardy)

Tabor said...

What you are is grateful for your life and the living of it. You were generous and smart to share that time with the woman. She may have few people to talk to over the holidays.

Brian said...

That was so nice of you to take the time to chat with her. Tis the season to be Jolly and you are off to a great start!

Dillypoo said...

Surviving great traumas make us stronger. And while I never wish anyone the difficulties I or you have lived through, I am grateful for the lessons learned and wisdom gained for having gone through them.

Hugs to you this holiday season and throughout the year!

Madi and Mom said...

BB this is absolutely a beautiful and heartfelt post. Bless you for taking the time to speak to your neighbor..no telling what difference you made in her day.
You will be Queen Bee on Christmas morning with all your favorite men under your roof. WTG
Hugs and warm wishes for your Holiday Season,
Madi and Mom

Ms. A said...

She needed the empathy as much as you did when you were suffering. It's nice that you took the time, many won't.

What a difference a year makes!

Noelle said...

I'm grateful for this Christmas too! My girl is home and healthy and this Christmas means we made it through the hardest year of our lives. Here's to Christmas friend!!

annie said...

As the old commercial said, "you've come a long way, baby!"

Brian Miller said...

what a wonderful person you are for recognizing that need in her and meeting it a bit...made me smile...we need more neighbors like that...and i am glad as well this is a better christmas for you...i was caroling my students in class today..haha

Ann said...

The rough spots in our life are good for something, they teach us something we need to learn. A very touching story and I'm happy to hear you are enjoying the season

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Your story choked me up. I have some family issues making this Christmas very bittersweet also.
I'm so glad to hear how happy your Christmas will be. Enjoy.

jenny_o said...

You're so right, Betty, and you explain it so well. The voice that "arises" in us - I have never been sorry I paid attention to that voice. People need people. The lady needed to talk to someone who understood. Someone who knew her husband and knew he was a good person. Someone who recognized what it was to have lost him. Good for you.

Retired English Teacher said...

Beautiful post. I loved every word of it. Merry Christmas. Thank you for taking the time to talk to this dear woman. God Bless.

The Green Streak said...

The true spirit of Christmas shines through you.

Domestic Bella said...

Beautiful. Have a very merry Christmas, Betty.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Betty .. love your story - there's a reason for everything isn't there ... I realised quite early on that perhaps my mother's illness and its duration was for me to experience and learn from ... I too take more on board and appreciate others and their situations much more having had that experience.

So pleased you're having a happy time this year - the house full of men ... it'll be so much fun - Happy Christmas and definitely 2013 sounds as though it'll be a ball for you .. cheers Hilary

Out on the prairie said...

A different but jubuliant celebration is always fun.I used to give lights to neighbors who have didn't have any, even offering to help put them up. I celebrate very different than many and have a very good time.Thanks for the concern, health has held me down, but I hope for another good year.

Lois Lentz said...

So often God gives us challenges and hardships to bare. I would say to see how we are able to deal with them. Then in His time he gives us something good. Something better if we just keep our faith in His goodness. Blessings to you and how well you handled your tribulations and came out better and passed it on to that sweet neighbor.

Lydia Kang said...

Your strength and grace, which you've always had, have shown through even more through this hard year. Hugs, Betty. You are an inspiration.

Ami said...

You made me cry.
And have motivated me to make a phone call I've been putting off because I just didn't know what to say.

Saying SOMETHING is important. Thanks for the reminder.

Pat said...

First off, Betty, I want to say how happy I am that YOU are happy. You were so open and honest on your blog and wrote your feelings down so we all could witness them. Your heart was breaking and we felt it every step of the way. But we were also there when you got stronger and your heart healed. Divorce is hard. A terrific blow to the ego. (I speak from experience.) It takes awhile to gain back your confidence. But as that saying goes, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Isn't that the truth?!!

Our experiences make us who we are. Maybe this divorce has made you even more compassionate than you were before.

Empty Nester said...

I have those thoughts all the time- the ones that keep me from putting others first...you know, walking around dressed up in my workout clothes and self-importance. I'm so glad you took the time and that you shared your experience. Perhaps this is just the kick I need to remember to put others first. You are out there making such a positive difference in people's lives Betty! Good for you- but, more importantly, good for them!

Baby Sister said...

I do that a lot. If I see someone I know, I purposefully avoid them so that I won't talk to them. I need to do better, though. Thank you for your example. :)