Magic keeps us going, keeps us paying attention.
Leaving the house before daybreak always seems at least in part like an interesting adventure. On this week’s Monday morning, I had it planned to drive with my husband through the dark of night to his meeting, so that I would have a vehicle to drive later that morning to my own.
A pre-dawn snowstorm created these two unusual occurrences, since 1) these days I rarely have cause to leave the house so early, and 2) it is, after all, spring (or, supposed to be); just last week temperatures had risen to the 70s.
Perhaps you have already seen that
variables like these are the ones that lead to chance meetings.
We traveled quietly alongside one another, observing the billowing snow.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it,” my husband noted.
“Yes,” I replied, with a throat already tightening, eyes watering, “but it reminds me of my mom,” I answered softly.
“I know,” he said, “it takes a long time.”
“I should be good in about two more years,” I guessed. “I still can’t talk or think about it. But moments like this–well, they just…bring her back…”
“So palpably,” is what I was thinking in that deep barrel that can be known as grief.
As the outside visibility grew poorer, I was able to admit this mystery–the mystery of one’s presence beyond life, beyond their natural life. This admission from me, who cannot bring myself to acknowledge or count the months that she has been gone, yet vaguely realize that it is somehow already nearing two years.
Moments later, just before 5 a.m., incredibly dark with a heavy snow accumulating, I dropped off my husband, kissed him goodbye, adjusted the car seat and mirrors, fastened my seatbelt, and proceeded into the snowy night–just me, a few streetlights, and two other cars distant on the roadway.
Not far from home, I saw in the darkened light the shadow of an old woman. She was trudging along the curb toward oncoming traffic. Already driving slowly, I had time to look hard and long, as confusion began to flood me. Her walking on the street seemed dangerous, though I noticed the sidewalk was fully covered while the road was not.
I looked in each of my mirrors to see no others, and came to a hesitant stop not fully knowing if I wanted to say what I was about to say; then pressed the electronic button to roll down the car window.
“Do you need a ride?” I called with a start in my heart.
The woman’s face was undecipherable, cloaked by a babushka, and she seemed as confused as I was by this unexpected greeting.
“Oh, please,” she said, her figure uncertain through the falling snow.
“Wait there,” I called, “I’ll pull in–there,” I pointed, to the driveway not fifteen feet ahead.
Then, I worried.
Could she shoot me? Could she be mean? Would she? Was she a she? Might this spontaneous action end the story that was my life? I had been warned never to pick up strangers on the road…
And then before I had any time left to fret, the car was in Park and she was opening and entering the passenger’s side door.
She entered wheezing, bungling her way into the front seat, breathing heavily from the walk.
“Where are you going,” I asked incredulously.
“I’m going to the train station,” she answered; “I need to catch the 5:20 train.”
“Oh, my gosh,” I said, “so early in the morning; it’s still so dark outside!”
“I have to work,” she asserted.
“Well, I know just where the train station is,” I added; “I live right near there,” to let her know she was not inconveniencing me.
An immediate calm filled the car for us both, it seemed.
“I live on Elm Street,” she said, seeming to let me know she felt safe, and also to indicate how far she had already walked.
“I grew up on Elm Street,” I brightened, surprised at the delight that followed, and all the energized talk about her house number, along with that of her friends’, the current neighbors of the house that was for so many years my home.
“You poor thing,” I said. “You are walking to work on this cold day.”
“One more year!” she repeated, “One more year!”
“Ah,” I said, “retirement! And then you will retire!”
“Yes, yes! I am an old woman. It will be about time!”
“How old are you” I asked, feeling the press of time as we made our turn toward the station, and with more surprise in my voice than I meant to share. It felt like a script I had never read, a scene I had never envisioned. More thoughts raced through my mind than I had time to moderate.
“I’m 80,” she said, seeming to know that that was awfully old to be commuting from the suburbs to the city.
Immediately, I envisioned the walk she must have ahead of her once she arrived downtown.
“EIGHTY?!” I declared.
At once, yet again unexpectedly, I flooded with pride. I felt proud to be a woman. Proud to be a woman helping this woman. Knowing the work of women…the hard, hard work of women. Knowing both how little and how much separated me from being that woman myself. How it would have been like me not to retire before 80. Or, 81!
“This is so nice of you,” she said smiling wide; “I am so grateful…This is so nice!”
And then she looked at me hard and long as if studying a return route.
With what seemed her brightest smile, she exclaimed:
“YOU ARE MY GUARDIAN ANGEL!”
And then, ducking and lowering her head closer, she repeated, “You are my guardian angel!”
The words hit large. The confusion returned while, as if wanting to offer her more than just one ride one day in the snowy dark of night, I found myself saying, “My name is Debbie.”
“My name is Lova!” she proclaimed, smiling cheerfully. And then repeating, seemingly for emphasis and separating the syllables:
Her accent was thick. Beautiful. Her country eluded me. Was she Czech? I couldn’t be sure.
I felt I heard her clearly, “Loo-va.” “Lova.” Like a song I heard once but would never forget.
Back home in dark warmth and the light of my computer screen, I googled, “the woman’s name Loova.” And this is what I found:
And then it hit me…a completely unanticipated connection.
The neighborhood snow had me thinking of my mother. Hurting over the loss of her. And here was this woman of thick, stocking-ed calves, bundled up like a grandmother, heavy with time, going to work. A woman I could help. A woman who undoubtedly had given so much help herself to so many others in so many ways. A woman still helping. A woman named “Love.”
I tried to stem the wonder. Could this on some level have been my mother, greeting me from the beyond?
Could the great gratitude this woman had, on this day that she said I made for her, this day that happens to fall on the 26th anniversary of the birth of my son–the day that he and I nearly both died in a complex labor–could any or all of that be in any way connected to any day I might have “made” for my own mother…or to the day the birth of my only son made for me?
We never know.
We just never know where a day will take us.
Because life is hard, but life is magical.
It is pretty much up to us to find the meaning in our days. To add the joy to our own Happiness Jars.
I will just say that I am grateful that on this day–this day that echoes a time when I once labored so hard, this day when I was missing my mother but trying not to, on this snow-covered spring morning in 2015– that I was able to be open to the moment, and because of this able, in some small way, to be of use.
Here is a poem that also speaks to this experience:
© Debra Valentino, all rights reserved.