Clinging to moments of unexpected grace
Every so often, my two sisters and I manage to carve out enough time to meet at a restaurant for a meal we don’t have to cook.
We eat, of course, and pick at one another’s plates, but it’s about so much more than food. We convene, in person, to share updates from our lives in ways that unfold when one can lean across a table and gasp, “And then what happened?”
Sometimes we also chew on whatever family gossip has made its sinful way to us, and if you’re aghast, please keep your sainthood to yourself. I have enough daily reminders of my human imperfections. Toodle-oo, perfect you.
Our get-togethers conclude with a stop in the washroom, where we all stand in front a sink, soap up for a good minute before rinsing — our mother was a nurse’s aide — and dry our hands with paper towels. Then we use those same towels to wipe down the splattered countertop around the sinks before tossing them into the trash — just as Mom taught us to do.
I’d never given this family ritual much thought until earlier last month, when I was standing at the sink in another public restroom, this time in Washington’s airport. The woman next to me was a bit older than I, perhaps, and better dressed, definitely. After she washed and dried her hands, she wiped the counter around her sink.
She tossed the towel into the trash and returned my smile. “Well, why not, right?” she said. “Why not make it easier for someone we’ll never know?”
I want to believe that her response would have moved me as much in 2015 as it did in 2018. I’m going to hold on to that hope and try to ignore my white my knuckles in the clutching. So often now, by the time I’ve read my morning news feed, I feel as if I’ve already lived a 28-hour day. I find myself clinging to those moments of unexpected grace.
Last night, I spent two hours in an emergency vet clinic with our dog, Franklin. What started out at 6 p.m. as our pup’s unusual nervous behavior managed, in my growing panic, to look like cancer by 10 p.m. Off we went, our family’s first adventure in doggy urgent care.
As it turned out, Franklin has acid reflux, which makes him not unlike a growing number of humans in the U.S., doctors tell me. I was relieved, of my fear and much of my money, but I was also buoyed by the kindness of strangers there, then and now. It’s something, this mileage of compassion.
Whenever I write about pets, I hear about how too many people care more about their animals than they do their fellow humans. Well, maybe so, but we have to start somewhere when it comes to prying open those fearful hearts.
I am reminded of my father’s back surgery, many years ago. I arrived at the hospital just in time to see my mother storming out of his room.
“Mickey!” she yelled. “He brought one framed photo for his room, and it’s Mickey.”
I stood at the foot of my father’s hospital bed. “Dad,” I said, pointing to the studio photo of his beloved boxer. “Really?”
My father was unrepentant. “He’s the only one who listens to me and never argues.” For that day, I agreed to join Team Mickey.
Recently, I saw a bumper sticker designed for car windows that read, “I HOPE SOMETHING GOOD HAPPENS TO YOU TODAY.”
I am not a bumper sticker kind of person.
I ordered one for my car. It arrived last weekend. This morning, I carefully peeled away the backing and pressed it to the inside of my back window. I slid in behind the driver’s seat, looked in the rearview mirror and thought, “Hmm. Why am I able to read the bumper sticker?”
Well, as you’ve most likely figured out, it should be affixed to the outside of the glass. I climbed out and stared at the sticker for a moment, taking in the magnitude of my error.
“Great,” I said to no one. “I’m the only one who knows what I’m trying to say.” My grown children would insist this is not an unusual occurrence. Edgy of them, when you think about how their mother is paid to share her opinions.
Undeterred, I scraped off the backward bumper sticker and ordered another one, with extras in case strangers inquire.
Why not, right? Why not be nice to someone we’ll never know?
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism.