This is a post about the women I encountered over the course of a week. Some I knew, some that were new to me. I have been changed by all of them.
The first week of work at my last job I bonded with the HR manager. I have written about her before - we did Listen To Your Mother together. She left a few months after I started which left me twisting a wee bit in a fierce wind. Luckily the bond held after she left the job and then eventually me, and we keep in touch on a regular basis.
A few weeks ago she texted me to see if I wanted to see Kristin Chenoweth. The non-profit where she is currently working was doing a fundraiser at the performing arts center and she had free tickets. FREE??! Kristin Chenoweth!!!! Darling, funny, talented Kristin Chenoweth??? Yes please.
We donned our night-on-the-town finest and headed off. We were supposed to do some volunteering prior to the event but since that was under control we went upstairs, had a glass of wine and admired the beautiful Kansas City skyline that is so prominent from the performing arts center. Making our way into the theater Amy said, "I'm so glad to get out for a night. I don't even know who this person is."
"What???? She was in Wicked on Broadway. Glinda? You know Wicked, right? Popular? I want to be Popular? No? Well, she's fabulous. We're going to have a great time."
We checked our tickets with an usher - the loveliest woman who told us it was a sold-out event and that the ushers were put in a lottery to see who would work as everybody wanted to see this concert. She pointed us in the direction of the section we would be sitting and said as we left, "You two have a great time. It's going to be an amazing concert!!" She was so gracious and good at her job that of course she should be a winner in the usher lottery.
Kristin Chenoweth came out in confident, sparkling glory and started off with Que Sera. Amy leaned over and said, "Do you ever feel like the universe is talking right to you?"
In Wicked there is a duet between Glinda and Elphaba called For Good. It is one of my favorite songs. Kristin introduced the song and the lights went up while she interviewed two women in the front row to sing the part of Elphaba. A young music student from the conservatory got the honors and went up on stage.
If ever there was a person that the crowd was rooting for it was this girl. Nervous and clutching the bottom of her dress she did her best. Kristin coached her with the words to her part and she did her best in what was surely an out-of-body experience.
When the song ended the girl apologized for not knowing the words. Kristin looked at her and said, "That's okay because you know what we just had? We had an experience. You and me, didn't we? That's all you need to remember."
My writers group meets early at Panera on an overcast Friday morning. We usually meet on Saturday mornings at a different Panera. The summer had gotten away from us, though, and even stealing these few hours was difficult to pull together with everyone's schedule.
I bring the drawing of the main character for the children's book my niece and I are plotting. "I'm stuck," I say to them.
Stuck is an understatement. I have a beginning that is utter crap, an end I can see perfectly and the entire middle that sucks wind. I didn't think this was going to be so hard but so far it has been.
They look her over and listen to my problems. They offer advice, good, solid advice and suggest names for her - one that I love. I drive home thinking I might be capable of pulling this off. The imaginary Fiona agrees.
She waved me down on a Sunday afternoon as I was pulling out of our street to go to the grocery store. "The flowers," she yelled.
I had met her a couple of weeks prior when I was working outside and she was walking her dog. We had briefly been introduced once before through a mutual friend. A fellow gardener, her charming house and yard look like a page right out of a fairy tale. She asked me what kind of hydrangeas I had in the front of my house and we talked for a long time. When we started talking about traveling I said we had just come back from a trip to New York City and loved it. She told me that they had just moved their son from there. "It's not the best place for him now."
She teared up and told me he wasn't doing well but that she thought he had turned a corner in the last two days. I could feel her heart. Her heavy, breaking heart.
While talking about my flowers I offered to cut some for her and bring them by her house. "Oh no, you don't have to do that. I just wondered what kind they were so I can plant them next year."
"Well I have a few to spare," I said as we looked at these heavy-headed flowers drooping from their own weight. "I'll drop them by your house one of these days."
I often get asked by passerbys about my hydrangeas - what kind they are and how I got them to grow so big. Sometimes I offer cuts of them when they have started to dry but rarely do I follow through. This time, though, I was not going to let time and laziness win. I went onto the screened porch and found a basket that I loved but had never used - oblong with bark on the outside, it feels natural and connected to the earth. I held it up and debated. This one or another? Maybe I hadn't used it yet but one of these days....... and I decided not to overthink it for once and let it go.
I crammed as many flowers as I could into that basket - it was a showy display of gardening goodness, and a few weeks after our initial conversation I drove them over to her house. I tucked a note inside that said: Here are your promised hydrangeas. I hope things have changed for the better for you and your family. I'll see you in the neighborhood.
She wasn't there when I went by but the dog sitter was and I left them with her.
There on my street corner on that Sunday afternoon she said, "I can't tell you what it was like for me to walk in after what I've been through to see that basket of flowers and note. It meant someone cared and I really needed it then. You have no idea."
We talked for a long time. Her heart remains heavy - maybe even heavier if that's possible. Waving cars around us we exchanged phone numbers with plans for coffee. Her challenges and those of her son weigh heavily on me - so heavy at times that it feels like I've been asked to take my turn wearing a backpack of worry all day.
And if it feels like that for me what must it be like to be her?
Her phone rang. It was her son and she had to go. I watched her as she and her dog walked away, my heart full and sad and confused about how I happened to be outside on that September morning when she stopped by to ask about some flowers.
"One other thing," she said. "You could not have picked a better basket to put those flowers in. It's so me but it's too nice to keep. I'm going to give it back to you."
"Keep it. I think it was meant for you."
I've heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don't if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you