I met a stranger this week who turned out to be a sister.
It had been a particularly difficult day, with a myriad of work and personal matters mounting as they sometimes do.
My method of blowing off steam is to head to my evening Zumba class and jump around like a maniac to pounding music. Shaking up a storm and sweating always helps to re-set my frame of mind.
This particular class started late – at 7 PM – so it was close to 8:30 PM by the time I pulled into my parking garage at the apartment complex.
Frustrating! A space was (oddly) not available on my floor, so I had to go up another level. This had never happened before.
As I got out of the car, I saw a young woman heading to the car parked next to me.
It is always my practice to say hi to strangers, and as I did she said, “I don’t know why I’m telling you this, but I just found out my boyfriend is cheating on me.”
Then she fell into a puddle of tears, and I gathered her into my arms.
It didn’t matter that we were strangers. In an instant, we were sisters.
When her sobs subsided a bit, I asked where she was going. Fortunately, her mom lived close by – but I wasn’t confident that she was in a frame of mind to drive safely. So she handed over her keys and I got her to her mom’s (knowing Uber could easily get me home.)
During the drive she shared her heartbreaking story. Her intuition had told her something was off; he protested…then she discovered a series of salacious texts that confirmed her fears.
He held the financial power, so her only choice was to leave. I held her hand. I told her to feel her feelings (which is the lesson I have been learning.) “There’s no better place to be than with your mom, where you can have a good cry.”
The wound was too fresh to offer more than that…but I did sneak in my sister’s favorite line of comfort: “In a few weeks you’ll look back on today and feel completely differently.” Time has a way of healing wounds, or at least making them less pronounced.
We can sometimes even see that we dodged a bullet by not getting the thing that we wanted.
I held her hand, got her safely home – and marveled at the privilege of being there for her. It was a Divine hand that had provoked me to go to that late Zumba class and that had filled up all of the normal parking spaces, causing me to be at exactly the right place at the right time to meet a need.
I told her, “God really loves you. And just the way he took care of you tonight is how He will always provide.”
And in meeting her need, He met mine. How quickly the pesky matters of the day faded away when I saw a gentle soul hurting.
Really, isn’t this what life is all about? To love our fellow man…and woman. To act as a sister or a brother, even to a stranger?
More on Sister/Brotherhood and the new WOW:
TRUSTING that this week brings you peace, and smiles, and confirmations that “it’s all going to be okay.”
It’s perfect that the week’s word, beauty, coincides with this planned post to honor my fabulous grandmother, aka Mom-Mom, on the week that would have marked her 111th birthday.
This is what I hope for; that, like my Mom-mom, my time on this earth would be so profound that over 100 years later it still warms the hearts of those I loved.
Edna Ernst Hartsell’s life was a tour de force. Long before independent women were in vogue, she was a career woman, and I still remember her lightening speed on an old, black manual typewriter, spitting out flawless pages (and making quite a racket!)
Many weekends of my youth were spent at her home on Ewan Terrace in Vineland, NJ so my parents could have date nights. We loved learning how to clean (really pretty sneaky, Mom-mom, getting us to think cleaning was fun) and playing jacks or paper dolls on the huge front porch, which was a great gathering place for all of the neighborhood kids.
The best visits were when my sister Shirlee and me were joined by the Shaw Kids, my cousins Johnny, Eddie, Bruce, Debbie and my beloved Kimmy. (I was the baby of the bunch, affectionately called Brendie for many years until FINALLY, Tiffy and Pammie showed up. By the way, do you see a trend? Everyone except Bruce had an “ee” sound at the end of their name. I wonder if he ever noticed that?)
On Friday night, it was pizzas and board games or those soft, snowflake rolls from Catto’s Bakery for perfect lunchmeat sandwiches and running around the perfectly coiffed yard to work off all of our carb and sugar-induced energy. Because my Pop-Pop, the oh-so-handsome Robert Hartsell, was deaf, he didn’t accompany Mom-Mom to many outings (or maybe he just preferred to stay home and garden or cook amazing meals), so I was often her “date” for weddings as well as Tupperware parties, baby showers and a regular calendar of church-related events.
On a road trip with Mom-Mom? You HAD to sing. A long car ride felt like a Broadway show starring rousing hymns like “S is for Sunday School.” There was the upbeat “Heaven Came Down and Glory Filled My Soul” and of course, “The Lord’s Army.” (These words are branded on my heart: I may never march in the infantry, ride in the cavalry, shoot the artillery;I may never fly over land and sea but I’m in the Lord’s ar-my.) Mom-Mom’s signature sound was to sing the base-line, “bum-bum-bum” style, adding a bit of sass and fun to our rolling revue.
My Aunt Joan recalls that when my mother was born, Pop-Pop was on a Navy ship in California. Mom-Mom named my mom Dolores, a name she loved. A nurse came into her room at the hospital and asked what the baby’s name was. When she heard the answer, she gasped, “Do you want to bring sorrow to that child for the rest of her life?” Mom-Mom immediately sent out new birth announcements with the name Edna Elizabeth (her own name.) When Pop-Pop received the second notice, he thought they had had twins! He found out differently when he was able to call home.
But this does beg a question I wish to pose delicately: How could Edna be a better name than Dolores?
The name Edna is anything BUT beautiful. Yet because it belongs to my Mom-Mom, and my Mom, and my sister (thank you GOD not me), there is beauty in it.
Of course, my mom goes by Bette and my sister (Edna Shirlee) goes by Shirlee. Can’t imagine why.
Getting back to memories, during World War 2, Mom-Mom would can everything in sight. Every three months, Pop-Pop would have a weekend leave and would tend to a huge garden. The kids, Joan, Bette and Bobby, would weed it and the pantry would be stocked with green beans, peas, lima beans, corn, tomatoes, carrots and beets. She would even make sauerkraut and grape and strawberry jelly.
Money was tight, but Mom-Mom always managed to take Joan, Bette and Bobby on outings like the Thanksgiving Day Parade in Philly. Recalls Aunt Joan, “We would get on the train in Lindenwold to Camden, then take the ferry across the Delaware to the foot of Chestnut Street. We’d walk up Chestnut to the Horn & Hardart restaurant where we could pick out anything for breakfast that we wanted. Mom would give us a handful of nickels and we would go hog wild in the machines. A whole breakfast back then was maybe 25 cents. One year my grandmother was in the hospital on Broad Street, so we went to visit her after the parade and went back to H & H for our Thanksgiving dinner. This was WWII so Pop-Pop wasn’t home. We went back to Camden on the ferry and went to see Snow White at a theater in Camden.”
She continued that tradition of special outings with her grandchildren. Each year she’d take one of us to the big city, Philadelphia, to see the John Wanamaker’s light show.
No telling of Mom-Mom’s story could ignore two facets of her life: Her uncanny ability to coin a phrase and her staunch faith and loyalty to church on Sunday mornings.
If you’re ever at a loss for words, here are some Edna Hartsellism’s that perfectly say what you’re trying to convey:
Need a nap? She’d say “I think you need a bipinsy wook.” (For the uninformed, bipinsy is pronounced BIP-in-zee.)
How to describe a sourpuss? “She looks like she’s wearing a turd for a breast pin.”
Her reply to, “What’s for dinner?”: Layover for meddlers and crutches for lame ducks.
Hot outside? “I’m sweatin’ like a bull.”
Bored with “Go jump in the lake?” Try “Go flop your tonsils.”
Caught farting? Reply, “Better an empty house than a bad tenant.”
Did you clean your dinner plate? I’ll call King William your uncle!” was Mom-Mom’s high praise.
Poor table manners, “I can’t take you to the Bellevue Stratford.”
Reply to “Where are you going?” “I’m going to Manayunk.” (NOTE: We kids didn’t realize Manayunk was actually a real place; we just thought it was a funny word.)
Did something frustrating to Mom-Mom? She’d exclaim: “Help me God!!!!”
Did you really frustrate her to the point of evoking a less than Christian response? “Now you made me sin my soul!”
Gazing upward to consider the answer to a problem? “You won’t find it in the ceiling.”
See someone lazy? They’re “Sitting there like the bells that never rung.”
What do you call the array of treats at a bakery? “Shleck.”
And, whenever you called for her, she would reply from somewhere in the house: “WELL??”
Reading this list it is clear that Edna’s personality had a salty dose of sarcasm; however, her devotion to God and her church provided a sweet balance.
For those of us who spent the weekend, Saturday nights were spent watching Lawrence Welk. We’d pretend her bathrobe was a ball gown like the Lennon Sisters would wear. She’d let us dance on top of her feet around her living room with our hair tied up in rags so we’d have banana curls on Sunday morning for church.
Church was non-negotiable. She was the queen of Sunday School (which meant we always got starring parts in the Christmas concerts.) When passing the collection plate she’d warn, “Thou God See-est Me.” This was meant to dissuade us kids from copping some of the coins when everyone else’s eyes were closed. Getting ready for church, she would take her pot of rouge and put red circles on her cheeks like clown make up. My cousin Pammy would giggle and she’d blend it in.
I remember wading in the ocean with her one summer and saying, “Mom-Mom, who owns the ocean?”
When my sister went to see The Exorcist and I couldn’t sleep, afraid the devil was going to get me, I called her. “Mom-Mom, can I be possessed by the devil?”
“Not if Jesus lives in your heart.”
To this day, I remember how she would kneel beside her bed EVERY night to say her prayers OUT LOUD. I’d always listen, to see if I could get any good dirt on the family (and to make sure she didn’t forget me.)
I didn’t…and she didn’t.
Her prayers completed, she’d groan to the upright position and finally climb into bed, saying, “Thank you GOD for this bed.”
I do the same thing now.
Not the prayers part (sorry, Mom-Mom.) But the exhausted sigh of “Thank you GOD for the bed.” And I think of my sweet Mom-Mom every night as I lay my head on my pillow.
I’ve only scratched the surface here, but I think she is pleased at how her brood turned out. Joan and Bette and Bobby turned into wonderful parents and raised amazing children, many of whom have children of their own (and beyond.)
Not one of us escaped the impact of her life, and for that we are all grateful.
Now for our regularly scheduled parting thoughts on BEAUTY, and the new Word of the Week:
Last week’s WOW was PRESENCE, and this time around I was focusing on the fact that I’m never alone. This realization is often accompanied by the presence of goosebumps.
Whether you call that Presence God, or the Universe, the Holy Spirit or Energy…you’ve felt it.
When you’ve been encountered by pure acceptance and love, ka-ching – that’s it!
When the sunset takes your breath away or a baby’s little hand curls around your finger…
…these are all goosebump worthy in my estimation.
This past week, did you see that clip from Undercover Boss? Where the woman (she’s so awesome) tells her new co-worker not to feel down…and to keep moving forward (then reveals that she leaves work to go to the homeless shelter where she and her three children have been living.)
I can’t do it justice, you just have to watch it. And get your tissues ready.
Sometimes in tears or the expression of true emotion, I experience the Presence. Like when Kelly Clarkson sang this week on American Idol.
When I speak or write about the Presence of God, I see a sharp drop in “likes” on Facebook. My thought is that it brings back memories or thoughts of religion that didn’t work for you and you don’t believe in anymore. I get it!
It’s also revealing that when I post a video of the Gulf of Mexico at sunset or a bunny eating a carrot with its nose wiggling, the likes go through the roof.
And it delights me. Because these, too, are a celebration of life and love and light and all that is Good.
Anything I experience that is Good, I attribute to my understanding of God. I find such comfort in feeling that connection.
So while I will always cherish the goosebumps, it’s time for a new Word of the Week (with a few parting thoughts on the word Presence…)
For those of you at a crossroads, at a huge decision juncture, preparing to embark on a business venture or a love affair…or even if it is as small as “should I take that umbrella with me?” – may we all have heightened discernment this week.
And if you can’t yield it; if it’s full of angst and bad energy – flush it.