“So, tell me how you got a book deal.”
A straightforward question, asked by a school PR colleague and new friend over drinks this summer. And I was happy to tell the story of an e-mail on a snowy Sunday, asking me to expand an article into book form. Except that’s not what I told him.
Listening to myself answer (and seeing the half puzzled, half entertained look on his face as I spoke), I realized that there was a narrative swirling inside me that hadn’t yet found its way out. See, there’s a thing — a very strange thing — that’s been teeter-tottering inside my head for awhile. And if I can’t regularly tell if the teeter totter is up, or down, it’s hard to know what to say, or write. Bumping into a friend, or meeting up for coffee or lunch, I wavered between letting it all out (and likely startling the person in my company), or keeping it in. But as my husband will tell you, I’m not very … adept … at keeping things in.
So far, 2016 has been a year of uncommon pain, uncommon mystery and uncommon peace. And although this story doesn’t really fit a lunch date — let alone a 500-word blog template — it’s been burning lines in my brain for too long, so out it comes.
My husband’s twin sister passed away on February 7, a Sunday. At 39 years old, she’d battled advanced colon cancer for nearly five years. She’d shown grace, courage, patience and enormous faith. Our hearts ache in a world without Emily.
Two weeks later our family dog suffered a stroke and passed away on February 21, a Sunday. Pet owners of the world understand the profound loss of a loyal friend of 13 years. She would have turned 14 a few weeks later. Our house is not the same without Bailey.
A couple months later, my aunt, age 49 with two beautiful teen daughters, went to bed feeling unwell on a Monday night in May. She didn’t wake up on Tuesday, following a massive heart attack in the night. Another wife and mom, gone much too soon.
And a month after that, our friend and beloved pastor passed away very suddenly after a short hospital stay. The news came at the end of the Mass; age 61, he had died, just moments before the Sunday morning service began. His absence is felt in our hearts, in our parish and in our community.
Uncommon pain. But also uncommon mystery.
On a Friday afternoon in May, I was sitting in my office when my cell phone rang. It was a number I didn’t recognize from a town a few hours away, and for the first minute or two, I was sure it was a wrong number. “Someone who knows you gave me your number and said you could help me.” … “I can’t talk now because I’m waiting for my appointment at the cancer center.” … “I need help with my kids.” … “I’m going to say a word, and if you understand what it means, you’ll understand what I need.” … “Trafficking.” I stopped in my tracks. I had to help.
Two Fridays later, I got a call at the office — this time on my desk phone. My coworker warned me, “the number is blocked, and she won’t give me her name.” I’ve had stranger transferred calls in my school PR life, so I answered. The woman on the other end of the line was suffering at the hands of a stranger, a cyber bully. She said her life was on the verge of ruin, following the disclosure of personal and financial information, and she was desperate. I hit pause on my day. I had to help.
A couple weeks later, an enormous box was delivered to my house. It was addressed to my husband, and inside was a box of 200 diapers, a very large box of overnight pull-ups, an industrial size package of dish soap and a refill of bottle soap. My husband checked his Amazon account and found no shipment. (A relief considering the items would have totaled $100, probably more.) We left it be, asked the UPS man and left it in the garage. Two weeks later, a Thursday, my friend who works at the domestic violence center posted on Facebook that there were a record number of kids at the shelter. They were in immediate need of large size diapers and pull-ups. I delivered our mystery shipment the next morning.
Uncommon mysteries. And uncommon peace.
In the spring and early summer, there were many more moments (though less incredible) when I’ve found myself at a crossroads with someone who needs help. There came a point where I realized this was more than a random series of events. In each of these moments — probably a dozen, if I’m honest — I’ve felt led. Guided. Used for a bigger purpose. If you’re a person of Christian faith, we call this the Holy Spirit. If you believe it’s God or gods or the Universe at work, I also hear you. I’m less concerned with the name of this force than the message it brings. It is calm, it is humble, it is gentle, it is powerful.
And the message it has delivered is that I must be unafraid to respond. Actively help those in need. Choose to serve the vulnerable. Watch and listen. Be ready. Be open.