I attended a weekend retreat recently. While I gained a lot of spiritual graces, I was privileged to share a table with a lady who was recovering from cancer. She shared with us that when she was 80 pounds and bald and she had just moved here from another town, she attended our church for the first time…and no one spoke to her. If you read my last post, you’ll know how deeply I was wounded to hear this. It is likely I was one of the people who did not speak to her. What a dreadful and life long lesson that was. I will always be thankful to this gracious woman for having the courage to share that with me; for holding that mirror up to my face and showing me fear.
Following my meeting with this new friend, I had an opportunity to put my new education to use. Later that week, I ran into a woman in the bathroom at a local restaurant. She was wearing a leopard print bandanna and over that a straw hat with a band in matching print. Instead of avoiding eye contact or pretending to be thoroughly engrossed in washing my hands, I looked her straight in the eye and told her I liked her “jazzy ensemble.” She replied with a wry smile that she didn’t at all. Undaunted, I told her I was sorry that she was having to make that fashion choice but I thought she chose very well. She seemed to brighten, thanking me for telling her that. Strangely, her response helped ME feel uplifted.
Just tonight, I dropped into the library. There, coming out was a dear lady with whom I became acquainted when our daughters were babies in the same daycare. Later we became friendlier when I joined the parent advisory board and when we moved to Concord eight years ago, she and her husband were among the first to stop by and welcome us to town. And here she was now in front of me in a brilliant royal purple top and a straw hat with a jaunty purple flower to match on the right side. The hat covered a perfectly smooth scalp. Her lash-less eyes brightened when she saw me. We hugged, and commenced the small talk.
Before long I noted that she had a new look and asked how she was feeling. I had known she was sick before, but the loss of hair was a shock as the last time I had seen her, it seemed she was on the mend. Apparently not. She informed me she had just had a bone scan to see where the cancer had moved to this time. All I could do was make a sad face and say, “Oh, no…it’s moving then is it?” “Yes,” she sighed, “I can stand not having hair but I really miss having eyelashes.” “They’ll come back?” I prompted, hopefully. “No,” she whispered, “I’ll be on chemo for the rest of my life.”
…And how long would that be? I wondered in my now completely stunned mind. What a dreadful, awful, horrible thought. I wish I could un-ring that bell. I can only be thankful that my friend from church taught me to say something; anything. To acknowledge. To be available. To say how bad it sucks that your eyelashes won’t be back. It is the prime way to do a small thing with great love. But it takes a great bit of courage.
I’m sorry for the sins of the past, ladies. I’m sorry for the times I did not acknowledge, and feared opening up to your pain. You may decide I’m a self-congratulating ass and you may think I am nosey or intruding or completely clueless…but you will not think I am ignoring you. You will not be overlooked. Not by me. Not by me.