The most interesting and meaningful series of events took place in my life one recent day.
Via text, a friend of mine named Ann* reached out to tell me how much my latest local newspaper column had touched her. After thanking her, I asked if she’d want to get together for a walk, as we hadn’t seen one another in several weeks. It turned out Ann had an injury she was nursing, so the walk wasn’t possible, but we decided to meet at a neighborhood park to catch up instead.
One of the first things Ann wanted to discuss was the article I’d written and the reason it had touched her so. (I wrote about how the inside of my cheeks were going to be super sore because I had so many opportunities for “mom moments” in May and June. “Mom moments” are my definition of those times in life when tears of gratitude threaten to overwhelm me, so I bite the insides of my cheeks to keep from crying and embarrassing myself and my kids).
Ann told me the article meant so much to her because she realized, in light of a recent tragic event that happened to her neighbors, how very important it is to slow down and really enjoy your family, instead of focusing on all of the details of celebrations that come with events such as graduations or weddings. People first, not party, was my bottom line message.
Ann went on to tell me her neighbors had just lost their only child to a drunk driving accident Memorial Day Weekend. Julia*, a freshman in college, had been a passenger in a car driven by her boyfriend who was under the influence. She, and two other passengers, died on impact. Ann’s neighbors are each only children themselves, and none of their parents are still living. So, there was no family to envelop, support, or help with making arrangements…my friend Ann was it. And although Ann and her husband had socialized with this couple occasionally, up until they heard the news they hadn’t really considered themselves close to them either.
I sympathized with the weight of Ann’s emotional challenge in helping her neighbors during this incredible challenge they were all forced to face. And while I listened, I thought about a woman who lives around the corner from me who’d lost her young adult son in a tragic accident only a year and a half earlier. It passed through my mind Barb* might be of some help or comfort in the situation. I mentioned her name to Ann to see if she knew Barb’s story. Turns out Ann was familiar with the story, but didn’t know my neighbor personally.
After another hour or so of catching up, I told Ann I’d be praying for her strength, and especially for that of her neighbors, in the days ahead as the funeral drew near and life, of course, went on.
The next morning I was leaving the neighborhood gym when a woman dressed in a baseball cap, sunglasses, and sports attire waved to me across the parking lot and yelled “Hey there, I have a question for you!” As she approached I saw that it was Barb!
“Oh hi Kim, I am just out for a walk this morning and see you came from the exercise class, can you tell me more about it?” So I filled her in. It was odd that Barb and I had crossed paths, even though she lives right around the corner, we don’t see one another very often at all.
I thought about my conversation with Ann the previous night, and I thought about what a struggle it has been for Barb to work through the grief of losing her son, and then I thought I needed to mention my conversation with Ann to Barb.
So I did.
“Barb, I don’t think it’s a coincidence we are seeing one another. Do you know a graduate from last year by the name of Julia* and about her recent fatal accident?” (Barb works at the high school where Julia had graduated in 2015).
“Yes, I heard. That’s so awful. I wondered if I should reach out…but, even though I have been through this terrible ordeal myself I don’t know what I would say to her parents that might be comforting to them now.”
I gave Barb some additional information about the parents I had learned from Ann, then I said:
“Barb, as you walk this morning maybe you could just pray about how you might be able to reach out. It could be through a phone call, or a card, ask God to help you with this. I really feel like I was meant to see you this morning and share this story with you.”
Barb agreed, and then she and I parted ways.
Almost four hours later, I was pulling into my driveway after dropping Maddux at camp when I remembered I wanted to text Ann to let her know I’d [oddly enough] seen Barb that morning and had told her about Julia’s parents. In the middle of my texting there was a tap on my car window, I looked up, it was Barb!
As I rolled down the window Barb said, “Guess where I just came from?”
And I knew. And we both held back tears.
Barb said, “I was walking along, talking to God, praying about the story you’d just shared with me, when I turned the opposite direction of where I had intended to walk…and I continued to Julia’s home.”
She continued, “Outside of their front door I kept saying to God, What am I supposed to say? Why am I here?” Barb told me she’d decided after contemplating for a few minutes that if Julia’s parents opened the door the worst they could do was tell her to get the heck off of their property.
So, she walked up to their door…
And when Julia’s mom opened the door, Barb quickly said…”My name is Barb, I am the mother of Kurt* who was killed nineteen months ago in a tragic accident. I have come to tell you how sorry I am for your loss.”
And that was all it took. For this mother saw the pained expression in Barb’s eyes and understood someone was in front of her who’d walked a similar, tragic path.
For the next three hours Barb listened to Julia’s parents, understood the gravity of their anger, frustration, and grief. In doing so, Barb began to help support their painful journey.
I was wiping my eyes at this point. Barb said it was so cathartic for her to be in their kitchen listening to their story, and to realize how far she herself had come in the past year and a half in her own grief process.
We both decided it was an act of God that morning we’d seen one another…and even further so that Ann had shared her neighbors story with me the evening before as well.
We often fail to see how connected we are to one another, how God works through us, and how important small things like a conversation between two people can change the lives of those around them.
This, I think, was an obvious example. But how often do we miss an opportunity to listen with empathy, or give compassion to another human being who is hurting? Let this story be a reminder of the mystery of God’s work in our lives, sometimes more pronounced than others, but altogether beautiful and mysterious nonetheless.
*made up names, of course