She, with her copper-colored hair who has survived two breast surgeries and now faces a diagnosis of stomach cancer, hugs me and thanks me for the emotional uplift. I did not know her before she walked into the store looking for clothes to wear for the summer. She is buying clothes for a season she may not see, but is positively projecting her future. I tell her the story of my grandmother who had lung cancer, who denied she had anything but rheumatism, and who managed to live years beyond her original grim diagnosis. She is misty-eyed, yet smiling while listening to my story. We hug again and she leaves the store. I silently thank her for her courageous presence on this earth.
She sits in her wheel chair and waves goodbye from the window. I watch her as she blows kisses to my daughter and me as we drive away from the senior care center. Our hearts are sad that we can’t take her with us, but she does not belong to us and is destined to live in that place for the rest of her life. She has just told us that she “loves us so much.” Her words warm my heart and I silently thank her for allowing us into her life.
She wanders through the store refusing help from others. She approaches me and asks me about the unique sizing. In a matter-of-fact manner I relay the information to her. She looks me in the eye and softly says, “My husband is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.” She tells me of the difficulties of being his caretaker and how she cannot leave him. I tell her she must take time to care for herself. We discuss this matter a bit more. How can I speak of things I do not know? The words seem to flow from my mouth. Then with a look of resignation, she weaves her way back through the racks of clothes and is gone. I silently thank her for her lesson on devotion.
She steps off the plane and my family says, “Is that her?” She is the wife and mother who has not been seen for over two decades. She is the grandmother who only knows of her grandchildren by the photos she’s kept safe in a basket back at home. She comes towards me with opened arms and utters my Chinese name “Lai Jyuh.” Her arms bear the strength of a woman who once hid in the mountains from the communists, yet as they wrap around me, I feel the soft tenderness of unconditional love. I silently thank her for sharing her love with me.
These are mere samplings of encounters with women, some complete strangers and some dear to me, that have enlightened my soul. Each encounter is like a shimmery thread that I have taken and gently woven into a beautiful fabric that wraps around my heart. I give humble thanks to each and every “She” who has passed my way.