Time is a funny thing, it can give and it can take away; and a single moment in time can change one’s life forever!
- Donna L. Jones -
While exploring in the mountains of North Carolina, my husband and I stumbled upon a cemetary on the top of a mountain. It’s beauty was far beyond serene, as the sunbeams shone down on us and all of those who had passed before. With respect, we strolled past the headstones, noting those who had served in the armed forces, those who were children and those who had once loved and lost. It was then, that we realized that very often the married couples passed relatively close to one another. Not stopping to think, I turned to my husband and asked, “How long will you live after I pass?”
Without even the slightest pause, he answered, “Thirty seconds.”
Taken aback by his answer, I froze there for a moment, looking deep into his eyes. Tears stumbled down his cheek and my tears were quick to follow, as we fell into one anothers embrace. The thought of either of us losing the other was more than we could take. Yet, somewhere in the back of our minds we both knew that dying was a part of living. I honestly don’t think that dying scared us near as much as living without the other!
In the weeks to follow, I often thought of that moment on the mountain top. Each time though, fear and pain caused me to dismiss it from my mind. Little did I know, that soon I would witness for myself someone else’s love and loss. Through them, I would experience one of my worst fears; losing my true love. Through them, I would be given a gift that I would have never expected. In a single , inexplicable moment, a wonderful family came into my life and I believe they came into my life for a reason.
Through a series of happenstance, I was introduced to “Harry” and his charming wife. They were an elderly couple who were just entering their “golden years.” For most, this would be the time in life to slow down and enjoy one another. A time to rejoice in one’s life and reflect on how well they had raised their children. A time to tease, play and laugh with their grandchildren. Yet, this would not be the case for them, because Harry had fallen extremely ill and required the care only available at a nursing home. His unfortunate circumstance had left him with very limited movement and had severely effected his ability to speak.
With the odds stacked against them, one would think that sitting and visiting with this couple and their family would be both sad and painful. However, I found that it was anything but that. In fact, the room was filled with smiles and stories of days gone by. As I watched the family laugh and share their memories, I couldn’t help but to smile. They knew that they had been blessed with wonderful days. On occasion, I would see a sadness cross the eyes of his daughters, as they dealt with the inevitable and my heart pulled toward them. Yet, these moments were brief and quickly replaced with a smile.
I couldn’t help but to be continually amazed by this family, and I wished over and over again that I could have met Harry when he had been well. There was something about this man that drew me to him. His hair grayed with age, swept softly across his head. His soul felt soft, warm and welcoming. However, it was his striking blue eyes that made the biggest impression on me. It was through his eyes that I saw the man that was silenced within. It was as though he spoke through his eyes, and he could light up a room with his smile. There was so much more to this man that I would have liked to have known. However, I did come to know one very important thing, he loved his family.
One day, as I visited with them in Harry’s room, they once again were sharing stories. Harry’s wife began to reminiscense with those in the room. Suddenly, I felt the need to look away from her and like a magnet, my gaze went to Harry. Without his wife noticing, he sat there intently smiling at her. He listened to her every word and his face seemed to glow there in her presence. His silence was nearly deafening to me, because I could hear how much he loved her.
Only weeks later his condition worsened and Harry had to be moved to a hospice facility. Again, I went to see him and his family. They welcomed me, someone who only weeks before, had been a stranger. We all embraced. It was then that I saw Harry. He was in a very bad state and I immediately knew that his time here on earth was short. Looking around I saw a much more visible pain in his children’s eyes, but they continued to stand strong during a very difficult time.
After greeting Harry, I quickly realized that he didn’t recognize me. Whereas before, he had referred to me as the “book lady.” His daughters had read my manuscript while he had been in the nursing home, and this was what he came to know me for. My heart dropped as I looked into his baby blues. Harry was slipping away.
I sat in a chair across the room and found myself hurting for the family, but mostly I was focused on Harry and his wife. My mind wandered back to the mountain, and the same pain I felt that day for my husband, I suddenly felt for them. Fighting back my tears, I watched as Harry’s wife got up in mid-sentence and walked over to Harry. Somehow, she sensed that he was needing a drink. Asking her son to go and get his father a drink, she leaned in and placed her ear near Harry’s lips. I could tell that she was trying desperately to understand his mumbled whispers. She looked up slightly, and said with a sadness, “I can’t hear what he is saying.” My heart sank even further and I fought harder now not to cry.
Then, as if though the noise in the room around them silenced, she looked directly into Harry’s eyes and he into hers. The others in the room continued to talk amongst themselves. Yet, the two of them seemed to enter a world all to themselves. It was as though they were having a silent conversation and they both understood each other perfectly. I couldn’t look away. I was entranced by their love and this incredible connection. As I watched on, I saw their years fade away. I saw a young Harry and his bride, saying their vows and declaring their undying love. She leaned down and kissed him ever so gently on the cheek and he glowed once again, there in the presence of his true love.
In that moment in time, I saw the love of a man for a woman; the love of a family; and the gift that God had given them. He had given them precious time together, and Harry’s life was not defined by the moment he parted, but rather by the moments he spent being both a husband and father.
SOMETIMES YOU JUST HAVE TO LAUGH
Sweat rolled off my brow as I tried desperately to finish mowing the lawn as quickly as I could. Like most moms, my schedule was full of taxi cab duties, fixing boo-boos, cleaning, cooking, paying bills, doing laundry, and yes, mowing the yard. Fortunately, my daughter was down for her nap and my other two children hadn’t returned home from school. With any luck I would have enough time to get the lawn mowed and continue my multi-tasking throughout the evening.
The truth of the matter was, that on top of being a super mom, I had to up it a notch and give “Sally the Homemaker” a good run for her money as well. My house was always immaculate, my children well cared for and I didn’t miss a single dance, karate, soccer or baseball game. Each night, after a hot meal there was always a homemade dessert. Then, come morning, there was a full-fledged hot breakfast that rivaled any restaurant; waiting there for my kids as they came running down the stairs. Life was good, but I was worn out.
Just as I thought I had this particular day under control, things took a turn for the worse. In my attempt to quickly finish the yard, I inadvertently ran over a large rock. Much to my surprise the collision with the rock caused a huge spark that ignited into a flame. In a panic, I looked down at the mower, which was now in a swirl of black smoke and small orange flames. “Fire…that’s a fire,” I thought in a somewhat calm manner. The funny thing was, the real thing on my mind was, ”Please, God, NO..if this thing breaks, I will never get this yard finished.” Thus proving that a womans work is never done.
Pushing that thought away, my next thought was more like a shear rush of panic. My brain was now screaming, “FIRE!”
Fire. What do you do when there is a fire? Stop, drop and roll of course. That’s what had been pounded into my head since childhood. With that, I flipped the lawnmower over in an attempt to roll it. “Swooosh,” went the fire as it grew instantly to gargantuan proportions. What was I thinking? Had I really just flipped a lawnmower upside down that was already on fire, just to have the contents of its gas tank to spew out and create a near disaster? Yep…yep…I did! I did just that! Without a minute to spare and in fear that the fire would spread to the nearby pine mulch, I ran to get the hose. Like an experienced fireman, I disposed of the flame with my expert aim of the great green yard hose. Standing there next to the smoldering lawn mower, I swore to never tell anyone of this event. (Besides, I bet Sally the Homemaker doesn’t even mow her lawn.) The good news was that now, due to the flame, I had less lawn to mow. That’s me, always looking on the bright side.
After pushing the singed mower back into the garage, I returned indoors only to hear that my little one was up and moving. Up and moving is hardly descript enough to describe her. She was a little fireball (no pun intended), full of smiles and limitless energy. That child had one setting and it was set for “full speed.” She was all of three years old and as cute as a button. I simply adored her, just as I did my boys. They all were truly the light of my life and always would be. I would work my fingers to the bone as a stay-at-home mom with a husband that traveled, but I didn’t care. They were worth it to me!
With no time to spare, I jumped in to the shower, taking my already clean daughter with me. She would sit and play in the bottom of the shower, giggling up a storm, not realizing that my only hope of getting my shower was to take her with me. The same would go for when I had to use the restroom, in she would go and we would have a “potty party.” Why a party you ask? I guess I just figured that if it was more than just me in there doing my business, then it must be a “party.” Lord knows, this child never missed a party and I never pottied alone. And..I rarely showered alone either. Come to think about it, I don’t recall hardly ever having a minute alone.
Anyway, back to my story….
Minutes later, I jumped out of the shower, dried the both of us off and got ready as fast as I could. There was still a lot to do before the boys arrived home from school.
Next on my agenda was to take my daughter to the doctor for her first dental check-up. Like a fine-oiled machine, I got us to the appointment right on time. After a few tears, (hers not mine), she had agreed to climb up in to the dentist’s chair. Smiling down at her he started a fun little counting game. “One, two, three, four….Can you count with me? How about we count your teeth, cutie,” he asked? She did not look amused and pursed her lips tight. I could see that this was not going to go smooth. Then, in another attempt, the dentist started the game again, this time making funny faces and laughing as he did so. I personally thought he looked a bit insane myself and I wasn’t quite sure that I would open my mouth for him either.
It became apparent that this counting game was futile, and may result in personal injury to the doctor’s fingers if he tried to press the issue. With that, I asked her to “do it for mommy.” Like the gates of heaven, her lips parted and revealed her pearly whites. I let out a sigh of relief and a smile crossed my face that showed instant pride for my sweet child. Looking down on her, beaming as only a mother does, I watched as the dentist began to count her teeth. Then, without warning, she closed her mouth. Thankfully it wasn’t to bite the dentist, but rather to tell him that he has “too many hairs coming out of his nose.” My smile faded and I realized that from her view-point, she may be right. I knew immediately that I too would have to check out this man’s nose hair when I went in for my appointment. Oh, dear lord, with that thought, I knew that she was definitely my child! I then picked her up out of the chair and bid the dentist a fond farewell.
Upon leaving the office, we had one more stop. It was time to take a break, relax and have some lunch with my daughter. As we walked in the restaurant many people stopped us to compliment me for having such a beautiful daughter. She was indeed beautiful, like a little ray of sunshine and not a shy bone in her body. Sitting down at the table, we began to talk about how fun it was to go to the dentist for the first time. Like most children, she tried to keep to our conversation, but her eyes began to wonder about the room. I noticed that her eyes had zoomed in on something. As I followed her glare in an attempt to see what had caught her attention, she yelled out “Hey, are you a boy or a girl?”
It was then, in a flash that I saw two women sitting together nearly three tables away from us. To be honest, they weren’t the most feminine looking women that I had ever seen, but they were definitely not men! I turned immediately to my daughter, quietly explaining to her that “you just don’t say things like that.” Yet my scolding was interrupted as one of the women said back, “We are girls.” I tried to ignore their response and keep my daughter looking my way. However, their declaration of womanhood won out and my daughter spun her head back around to them.
Before I could get a word out, she offered them some of her very own fashion advice.
“Well you ought to wear lipstick or something!” she said, looking pleased with herself.
Fighting the urge to crawl under the table, I crinkled my nose in an apologetic manner and shrugged my shoulders towards them. “Sorry” just didn’t seem to be adequate enough at that moment, but I felt somewhat better to see that the two WOMEN were not offended, but instead they were laughing at my precious child. On second thought, maybe they were laughing at me, because she was my child. Maybe they were laughing because they were glad that she wasn’t their child. Either way, I felt that it was best to leave.
After taking the last few bites, we gathered our things. On the way out to the car, I relived that moment in the restaurant over and over. Then, the dentist’s nose hairs came to mind. Putting my daughter into her car seat, I closed the passenger door.
As I walked around to the driver’s side, I realized…I was actually alone. It was quiet and I was there with just my thoughts. I laughed out loud at the absurdity of my day, and then gave thanks that unlike other days, she hadn’t reported to complete strangers that her mommy had made a stinky poop, or that her mommy has hair on her butt. It was then, as I laughed at her silliness, that I was reminded that we all do silly things sometimes. Afterall, I just “Stopped, dropped and rolled” a lawnmower that morning.
But…that one is just between you and me!
I sat quietly there in the park beneath the comforting shade of the old elm tree. Looking up through the branches, I could see the sunlight shimmering there beyond its leaves. Breathing in slowly, I recalled days of old, when I had met the love of my life beneath this very tree.
One hot summer’s day, at the tender age of twenty-one, he had approached, while I sat there deeply involved in a book. I could feel him standing there, towering over me. Purposely, I didn’t look up. Instead, I waited to see what he would say. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the next words that would cross his lips.
“Excuse me,” he said, breaking the silence.
My heart froze, for somehow, his voice sounded familiar to me. I looked up, but did not recognize him, yet he still had a strange familiarity about him.
He continued,”This is not at all like me to go up and speak to a perfect stranger, but I feel like I know you. I have been watching you for quite some time now, and it finally occurred to me where I knew you from.”
My attention was now his, as I thought that he was about to solve the mystery as to why he seemed familiar to me as well.
“I have seen you…I have seen you more than once. Please don’t be scared when I tell you this, but I have seen you in my dreams.”
Part of me suddenly wanted to run, but the part of me that felt his heart, begged me to stay. I tossed his words silently back and forth in my head for a moment, as I tried to think of something to say. For once in my life though, I was at a loss for words.
Seeing my reaction, he apologized and immediately turned to leave. As he stepped away from me, I felt myself wanting to call out his name, but I didn’t know this strangers name. I struggled with why then that his name felt as though it was on the tip of my tongue. The air gathered in my throat, but nothing came out in the form of words. With each step, with each moment, he was moving away from me. My heart ached.
As though the damn had broken, words briskly escaped across my tongue. “Well, it must have been a good dream if I was in it,” I joked.
He turned, with a look of seriousness on his face. Taking my breath away, he replied, “I fell in love with you under this tree!”
Standing now, as he began his return, I stood in silence. Why did I want to reach out and touch this man? Why was my heart pulling me towards him? None of this made sense to me!
Within seconds, we were standing face-to-face. Looking into his eyes, my mouth seemed to speak for my heart and all logic was tossed aside. “I fell in love with you under this tree.” I said softly.
I felt as though I could lift off of the ground, powered by an inexplicable happiness that was filling my soul. It was then, within him, that I saw my future. For the next fifty-two years, we would return to this tree together, but now I come alone. Each time I visit here, I pray to god that I will look up and see his familiar face. I pray that he will be sent here to find me waiting underneath this tree for him. Waiting for him to take me with him. He left this world too soon, and took part of my heart with him. Now, my body is old, but my heart is forever young in him. Lifting my hand to my heart, I could feel him there. He was and would forever be a part of me. I closed my eyes, and then I heard a familiar voice.
I didn’t pause this time to hear what he would say. I already knew. It was time for me to go. My heart flooded with joy beneath the very tree that I had once fallen in love.
A Strangers Words
Looking out my car window, I saw her there yet again. So small and frail in stature, kneeling there in the grass, with her blond hair blowing in the wind. She couldn’t have been more than seven years old. Slowing down, I strained to see her face.
There was something about this child that drew me to her, something inexplicable that tugged heavily at my heart. Could it be that for nearly everyday over the past week that I would see her there at the church, sitting alone in the cemetery? Or was it how diminutive she seemed sitting next to the charcoal gray headstone in the shape of a cross? Maybe it was, that to me, she looked like a tiny angel there in the sunlight. Whatever it was, I could not put my finger on it.
Not wanting to stare or disrupt her, I drove on past today, just as I had on days before.
That evening though, I couldn’t seem to get this small child out of my thoughts. She lingered there in my mind, and I wondered if I would see her there again tomorrow.
The next day, as I neared the church, I immediately noticed that she was not there kneeling next to the cross. Without hesitation, I quickly veered to my left and drove my car down the path to where she normally sat. Still not seeing her, my curiosity took over. Bringing my car to a stop, I got out and walked toward the cross-shaped headstone.
Upon my arrival, my eyes had plenty to take in. For beneath the cross, the young girl had placed multiple items, varying anywhere from small trinkets to photos, and what even appeared to be a gently folded note. Glancing upward I read the engraved stone:
Rebecca Ann Singleton
Beloved Mother, Wife and Daughter
Born April 16, 1980
Died January 12, 2012
It was then that I realized that Rebecca was most likely the child’s mother, and according to the stone, she had only passed a mere three weeks prior. I couldn’t help but to think of my own children at a time like this. My heart burned with an emptiness that physically brought me to my knees. Knowing the love that I felt for my own children, I could not imagine leaving them or knowing that they would have to go on living without me.
A tear rolled down my cheek, and the brisk bitter wind caused it to sting my face with cold until it dropped into my lap. Looking down at that single tear, I thought of how many tears this child must shed as she sits here in this very same place.
Taking a deep breath, I looked up towards the heavens as I tried to gather my emotions. Each cold breath nearly burning my lungs as I prayed there for that little girl.
“Dear Lord, please watch over this child. She has suffered what I feel must be a great loss and she needs your love, strength and passion as she faces the days ahead of her. Please be with both her and her family. Hold her in your arms as I wish that I could do each time I see her here. She has touched me dear lord, and yet we have never met. I beg of you, keep her safe and show her the way when the road gets bumpy. In God I trust, Amen.”
Slowly I rose to my feet and placed my hand on the cross. Just as my fingers made contact, I heard the sweetest voice ask, “Did you know my mama?”
Without turning around, I knew who was standing there behind me. Panic ran through me as I tried to think of how I could explain my presence at the grave of a total stranger.
Turning to her and finally laying my eyes upon her face, I said “No sweetheart, I did not know your mother.”
Disappointment filled her eyes as she lowered her head.
It was everything I could do not to reach out to her. Then, without much thought, I knelt down before this small child. She shuffled her feet and gently wiped her eyes, never once raising her head. My heart poured out to her, for I could feel her deep pain. She needed her mother like she needed air. Without her, she was struggling to survive and each breath was a strain. I reached into my coat pocket, pulled out a tissue and tried to hand it to her. With that, she lifted her head and looked at me with an empty stare, never retrieving the tissue. Her small face was covered with streams of tears, her heart so heavy that I felt as though she may collapse there into my arms. Not knowing what to do, I gently took the tissue and patted her tears away. Beneath my touch, I felt her body relax. Between her breaths she sighed, “I am sorry.”
“There isn’t any need for you to be sorry, sweetie,” I told her. “It’s alright to cry and it’s alright to be sad, but there is no need to be sorry.”
“You don’t understand, no one does.”
“Help me then, help me to understand.” I said.
“I can’t. I can’t tell you. No one can know.”
“Know what, sweetie?”
I could tell that she needed someone to confide in, and a total stranger may just be an answer to her prayers.
She stepped past me, bent over and picked up the folded piece of paper that she had placed on her mother’s grave. I suspected that the contents would enlighten me to the burdens that were on her soul.
I stood there expecting her to hand me the note, but instead, she sat down and then she motioned for me to do the same. While I did so, she reached in to her coat and pulled out a clear plastic Ziploc bag. Inside the bag were dozens of folded notes identical to the one that she had just pick up from the grass. Waiting for her to guide me as to what she wished for me to do, I prepared myself for whatever those letters may contain.
Without a word, she handed me the first note. Not wanting to overstep my boundaries, I cautiously asked, “Do you want me to look inside?” She simply nodded, “Yes.”
Peeling back the folds, I was astonished at what I saw and tried quickly to understand. However, the child did not give me time to grasp what I was looking at before handing me another note from the bag. As fast as I opened that note, she would hand me another,and then yet another. With each note, her tears returned and her sobs grew louder and louder. Thoughts swirled through my head. Then, without notice she began to throw the remaining notes into my lap, multiples at a time. Her breathing heavy as she emptied the bag and then threw it into my lap as well.
Screaming out in pain, she shouted, “There aren’t any words! There just aren’t any words!”
Immediately, I knew what she meant. There were “no words” to describe how lost she was without her mother. There were no words that could describe the comfort she had once felt as her mother had wiped away her tears. There were no words that could describe the pain that enveloped her. Mostly though, there were “no words” that would bring her mother back.
With an intensity that I have no words for, this child looked into my eyes. Her stare pleaded for something only her mother could give her, but in an attempt to soothe her, I simply said, “I understand. Sometimes there just aren’t ‘any words’ that can tell someone just how much you love them.” Her breathing slowed and her face began to soften as she listened to my words. “The love you have for your mama is there in your heart. It is something you know, something you feel, but it is far too big for words.”
Without a word, she reached back in to her coat and pulled out a pencil. I sat silently watching as she began to gather up the notes. Then, firmly holding the pencil in her hand, she looked up at me once again, before drawing a single, simple heart on the blank piece of paper. Her tiny hands then re-folding it and setting it aside. I continued to watch as she drew a heart on every single sheet of paper. Upon completion, she put all of the notes back into her clear bag, walked over to her mother’s gravestone and placed the bag down next to the other trinkets.
As she turned to face me, I could see a strength about her now. Her stride towards me was done with intent, her head held high and her shoulders back, her blond hair there blowing in the wind. She stopped only feet from me, reaching for my hand and turning it palm up. Again, I watched in amazement at her each deliberate move. Reaching in to her pocket, she pulled out a gently folded piece of paper, placed it in my hand, smiled, then turned and walked away. I watched as she faded from my sight; somehow knowing that she would be fine, I opened my note.
Inside …there was a single heart.