Two years ago I was flying out to Seattle in July for the annual conference at Earthues. I always have one stop from New England and on that flight I booked from Hartford, CT to Detroit and then on to Seattle. It was hot and humid on the East Coast and the flight from Hartford to Detroit was a white knuckle ride due to turbulence. I was seated next to a man who offered great support as we both held on for the ups and downs and jiggling. I am not a fan of flying and neither was he but I was thankful he was my neighbor instead of some air savvy traveler. It was one and a half hours in the air and it felt like forever. But we landed safely in Detroit and for the brief layover I refused to worry about the next leg.
When I boarded for Seattle a pleasant looking woman, who I'll call Sue, came down the isle looking for her seat and I thought, oh, let her sit next to me, she looks like someone I can connect with. And she did! We settled in and awaited takeoff. We quickly spurted out our fears of flying and I knew we were in great company! We took off and once we started breathing again, we started to talk. For four and a half hours and a few glasses of wine the stories flowed; some were personal and heart-wrentching. She was travelling to Seattle to have a vacation with her two sisters. And then she would return to her home and family in the greater Detroit area. No real hope for a lasting friendship, or was there?
We walked to baggage claim together and her sisters greeted her. I got a picture of them, we swapped email addresses, hugged and went our separate ways.
And so began our friendship. After we each returned from the Pacific Northwest we emailed back and forth, here and there. Like so many of us it might just be a "forward" but I have come to understand that when someone sends a forward joke or other generic email, they are thinking of you, even if they haven't got time to write a personal note. Our lives are all very busy and sometimes just a silly joke or YouTube movie can break the crazies! But Sue and I also wrote little notes to each other about our lives and days. We continued to share to each other what was happening in our daily transgressions.
On our flight together, Sue shared that she loved to create art through wood-burning. She had done a number of pieces (plaques) the past few years but life got in the way and she had to set the art aside. She sent me a picture of one particular piece she had done that hung in her livingroom. It was a drawing of a deer in the brush, alert and listening. I was so astonished I asked if she would consider creating something similar for me to give Jack for Christmas. Of course I would pay her. Nothing came of the discussion until a package arrived a year ago Christmas. I opened the box and I held a wrapped present. The tag said "To Jack, with love from Nancy". It was placed under the tree and on Christmas morning Jack opened the package to reveal the exact wood-burned plaque of the deer in the brush that she had in her own living room. Not a duplicate. But that exact personal piece.
Unbenounced to Sue I had sent her a scarf I had knit for her to keep her warm in the cold Michigan weather. She always said she felt warmer when it was wrapped about her head and neck.
Another year passed, more emails here and there and then less, she finally didn't write at all. On my birthday, this past November 30th, I got an email from her. I will never forget the moment. It was a long note and from her heart. She had come to a crossroad in her life and over the summer and fall had decided to make a major change in her personal life. She had moved out of her home after many years and managed to find a temporary but suitable living circumstance and a job. I won't go into the particulars but her note cut me to the core. She is an incredible woman who had endured more than she needed to for longer than she should have and she finally said enough is enough. As I read the email to Jack for the first time I burst into tears for her struggle and fortitude.
Of course the first thing I did was email right back. But her note to me had shared that she didn't have a computer and was at a library working on a public computer. So I knew she wouldn't see my message for days.
Within a week I realized there was one thing I could do for Sue to perhaps make a difference. I had a laptop that I had "retired". I had upgraded to a new model but still felt the older laptop could be put to use somehow so I had hung onto it. I took it to my technician to have it cleaned off and he reloaded Windows XP and a free anti-virus program. I wrapped it up in ribbons and bows with a Christmas card and sent it to Sue mid-December. It felt wonderful to know she could work on it, email on it, take it with her as she went to and fro and mostly use it in the privacy of her own space. That, to me, is a crucial gift when the chips are down, privacy in the chaos.
The day the package arrived I got an email from Sue. It said the following:
I LOVE YOU!!! Nancy, you are unbelievable! Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. thank you..........!!!!
I was bowled over by your generosity and thoughtfulness. My eyes are wet with tears...I'm on cloud nine! I don't know what else to say. I'm speechless!
God bless you.
This is the true meaning of Christmas. The gift of love. Without qualification. Without condition. And it all began on a hot day in Detroit, on an airplane, with a stranger.