Yesterday I ran into a girl who did some part-time temporary work for me at my office last year. The first time I met her, I was struck by her gentleness and apparent fragility. I couldn’t have told you then why she seemed fragile to me, but she did… like a small, wounded bird taking tentative, hesitant steps. She smiled easily and often, but her eyes held a sadness so deep that I immediately felt protective of her and offered her as much encouragement and support as I could.
One day, while our office was being remodeled, she was literally forced to sit on the floor of my office to do her work, which she did without complaint. We chatted as we often did, and then, after a lull in conversation, she asked me about my divorce and how I’d rebuilt my life. I told her a bit about my story, and she listened intently. Then, in her soft voice, and without a trace of self-pity, she shared her story with me:
She had recently been engaged to a wonderful young man named Dan, who, about a month before, had died in a tragic and grotesque motorcycle accident just outside of town. I knew who she meant as soon as she told me, as I work in a very small town and he was well-known and well-loved. The whole community had mourned his passing. She continued her filing work as she told me how she felt numb. How she couldn’t imagine a life without Dan. How special and brilliant and talented he had been. And how haunted she was every day by the way in which he left this life. She said she felt like she didn’t belong anywhere anymore… like she was untethered and lost. She couldn’t sleep and couldn’t eat. Her parents were encouraging her to move back East and her friends were begging her to stay put. She felt torn in every sense of the word. She knew that she needed to move on someday, but she couldn’t begin to imagine what that would look like or feel like.
I sat there with her, in silence, holding her pain with her for a moment. She didn’t cry. I don’t think she had anything left, to be honest. I had few words of encouragement, but I did tell her that I could see that she had been a young woman with a bright light and that I had faith that it would shine again. She offered a gentle, hopeful smile in return. Then the office got busy and the moment passed.
I heard through the grapevine that she was going to be forced, due to financial considerations, to leave town and return to the Northeast. But then, a couple of months ago, I ran into her, working in a local restaurant. She looked brighter and less fragile. She told me that she’d gotten a better job, found a place to live and convinced her parents to let her stay without worrying themselves sick. She looked good, and I told her so. She smiled and said that she was still putting one foot in front of the other, but beginning to heal.
Yesterday, I saw her again at the restaurant and we talked privately for the first time since that day in my office. She brought me up to date on her life, including a new man she just started seeing. Her eyes were bright and her smile easy and she seemed excited and content as she related various stories from her life now. She had celebrated a milestone birthday last week and we talked about new beginnings and how significant they can be sometimes. We talked about Dan and what he had meant to her and the gifts he had given her that she would always have. She spoke softly about how he’d taught her what real love was and how it was meant to feel and how people who love each other are meant to treat one another. But she also talked about how proud he would be of her, for making this new life for herself. I told her how sincerely that I was proud, too. She beamed. We parted with a hug.
I sat for a moment alone, before the friend that I’d eaten with returned, and contemplated my young friend. She was so clearly healing, recovering from the devastating blow she’d suffered. Her loss was beyond my comprehension, but her pain, during that early time of our acquaintance, was palpable. And now, here she was: hopeful and optimistic and bright again, bravely creating a life she’d never anticipated.
I think the resiliency of the human spirit is truly awe-inspiring. The depth and breadth of despair and pain and hopelessness from which we can recover never fails to amaze me. Nearly all of us have had dark moments, when recovery seems unimaginable and life brutally unfair and unkind. And yet, somehow, we push through and move forward and create new things and gravitate toward a better space. Eventually, the sun comes out and warms our face and we have one of those incredibly small moments that makes life so precious and rich and worth it. So that the next time the clouds appear and torrents begin, we don’t give up. Again.