Life's lessons come in the strangest places.
It was midnight Wednesday night/Thursday morning of this week. I was in the Easley, South Carolina, Walmart with two of my daughters. We have this tradition every year. Once the Fab 5 are in bed fast asleep, the men folk are watching a movie, football game or are otherwise engaged, the three of us take off for a late night, post-Christmas Walmart run to scope out the remainder of the holiday ornaments, paper, ribbon and scrapbooking stuff. Do we need any of this stuff? No, but the challenge of getting something cheap for next year calls....it is an addiction and we have it bad.
So there we were. Laughing and having fun. Paige rounded a corner and went down another aisle. That's when Gabriel and I heard it. This woman, words slurred, asked Paige a question and Paige responded with an "I'm sorry, but I can't understand you." Gabriel and I cautiously and curiously peeped around the corner.
There sat a woman, probably in her late 30's to mid 40's, in a Walmart scooter chair. She struggled to get to her feet and asked Paige for some help. The item of interest was a box of do-it-yourself Christmas water globes in which you inserted a picture before filling it with water and "snow". "Are these half off of this price?" and "If I buy all of these, how much would it be?" were her questions, spoken carefully and slowly in order to make herself understood. Gabriel and I strolled by, knowing that Paige had the situation well in hand, answering her questions, assisting her putting the box of snow globes into the basket of the cart. That's when we noticed that one hand was drawn. It was obvious that this woman had a physical disability that affected her coordination, her speech. She was friendly and extremely grateful for the help, explaining that she could afford her find and that she was going to put her three daughters' picture inside and give to relatives for presents.
By this time, Gabriel and I had made it to the end of the aisle and I turned to see Paige retrieving her shopping cart. At about the same time, this lady struggled out of her scooter and approached Paige once again. She pulled from the inside of her sweater a lanyard very much like that of a company ID card. As she hobbled closer to Paige, I clearly heard her comment that this was the picture of her daughters. Paige patiently looked and admired the dog eared, well worn picture in its plastic sleeve. Until....
Until the woman explained in her slurred and slow speech that her children were "gone". Yes, "gone". "They are all in heaven now", she said and Paige's eyes went from hers to mine, back to hers. It was the look of one mother speaking her heart to another mother. Someone who would understand the pain. Without prompting, she went on to tell Paige that "Wayne drove the car off the road one morning taking them to school. They all died." I cannot hear what this mother is saying now. All I can do is stand frozen watching my own daughter's face, eyes so huge and full of tears, softly and tenderly hugging this stranger and expressing her so sincere and heartfelt sympathy that I want to cry myself, yet I remain planted on the spot, as if I am viewing a movie. As the woman sinks back into the seat of her shopping scooter, she dropped her head and said softly, "This is the worst Christmas ever." She thanked Paige once again and Paige made her way to Gabriel and me, crying.....crying for this complete and total stranger's loss and pain. As Paige reveals the parts of the conversation Gabriel and I had not been privy to, we contemplate who "Wayne" could have been....the father? A friend? How and where did this accident take place? Was this lady in the car, thus the physical disabilities? Was she brain damaged from the wreck? Had she had a stroke from the stress of losing her family? As Paige talks and cries, Gabriel and I cry with her. We cry as mothers who can only imagine this woman's pain; we cry as people who know the loss of loved ones at any time of the year, but especially at this holiday time; we cry for the sheer beauty of the moment - one person reaching out to another for some strength and validation, for witnessing the sharing and baring of that person's soul. And we cry for the absolute joy of our blessings.
Yes, we went on to enjoy our late night shopping spree at Wally World. But there was this underlying tone we each felt in the pit of our stomachs and in the depths of our hearts. I have to say that our once-a-year, late night tradition will never be the same, as I will think of that precious woman for years to come. It brought into undeniably crystal-clear focus how very blessed my family is. As a family, we play hard, we love hard, we fight hard. Sometimes the "fight hard" takes it toll, but we always come back to the "love hard" part. I never want to forget that even in our hardest times, we still have each other.
As the New Year approaches tonight in about 11 hours from now, I will count my blessings and ask for a good year to come. But I think the most important thing I will ask for is peace and healing and comfort for a complete stranger that touched my daughters' and my heart on a cold winter's night in a Walmart, of all places.