I sat in the driver’s seat eating my half-soggy sandwich, a few crumbs falling onto a new glittered sweater, this Season’s splurge. The rain had finally arrived – so much so it fogged the windshield, blurred my vision, and drenched both my shoes and pant legs, putting a slight damper on last minute shopping I’d hoped to do. Pulling into the parking lot of a neighborhood strip mall, I turned off the engine, unbuckled my seat belt and sat silently gazing out the window.
It was one of those rare occasions when time stopped. Resting in solitude, a soundtrack of falling raindrops played on my car’s rooftop. I did nothing more than breathe in and out, three, maybe four times, a lesson I learned in yoga. I desperately needed this moment of calm. As my breathing slowed, I whispered, “thank you,” as if someone might be listening.
As much as I love the holidays, my days and nights had been overbooked since before Thanksgiving. There’s more to it than that – I had also visited my son’s grave that morning, sent flowers to three friends who had suddenly lost loved ones, their sorrow now palpable and getting to me as if contagious.
Not wanting to intrude on the magic falling from the sky, I brushed the crumbs gently onto the floorboard and pulled out my pen. Although I rarely know what will come of these moments, I’ve learned it’s a good idea to take notes. Using the waxed sandwich holder as a makeshift tablet, I began scribbling names of people who had shown up to be part of my life in 2014. I somehow knew seeing their names would buoy my spirits.
At first, the movement of my pen felt strangely erratic like nervous fingers moving along an ancient Ouija board. And then, their names appeared.
The young bank executive who donates his heart to endless charitable causes.
A husband and wife team silently suffering an unthinkable fate.
The young woman with an unstoppable spirit behind the counter at a beauty supply store where I buy shampoo.
A crew of construction workers who reimagined an empty room and brought it (and me) back to life.
One year ago I knew little about these people, but one by one, they made their entrance. Each at different times and seasons but sharing something wildly important in common: each had fueled my personal journey and delivered a kind of unspoken pact I knew would make us friends for life. I sat wondering if they had any inkling of their influence.
Cocooned in the safety of my four-door sedan, I reveled in thinking about what had prompted them to sign on as friends. Each possessed some intangible quality: the courage to make eye contact, a visible passion for life, a kind of humanity capable of moving mountains. Moreover, these once strangers had delivered immeasurable gifts of hope, trust and friendship. To me.
Mary Ann, my yoga instructor, had welcomed me into her class at the start of the year. Beyond her physical teachings, she has a knack for finding (and sharing) poetic wisdom passed down through the ages. I happened to have one of her gems stashed in my purse. Awaiting the rain to subside, I read it again – this time inhaling its magic.
“It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing…It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have become opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain…I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ‘Yes’…It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children…It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away…I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.”
—The Invitation, Oriah Mountain Dreamer
In that precise moment, I was all alone yet remarkably at peace, knowing these new friends symbolized the thread that runs through each of us — connecting one to the other. I also knew this was the true gift of our San Joaquin Valley. We exist, endure and thrive while embracing the strength of these intangibles: character, compassion, and a kind of connection – hard, maybe even impossible to find elsewhere.