I just returned from being in Europe for two weeks, a stimulating trip full of wonderful new adventures, warm connections with friends, much laughter and great food. I had some adventures that were not happy but were poignant. They were surprises in human contact. Here is one that stands out.
A woman I know was chosen to lead our discussion group in a circle of 10 people following a keynote at a conference I attended. After a few minutes, she looked at her phone, jumped up with tears and said, "I have to go." She left abruptly. The rest of us stared at each other. I got up to follow her. I looked down the stairs and did not see her. I called down and she soon returned. In the stairwell, she tearfully explained that her mother was in the hospital and she did not know what to do. I held her hands and listened.
She appeared anxious and confused. I probed and she went deeper telling me that her mother has done this her entire life - used illness as a pull to make her daughter pay attention to her. I mirrored what I heard and she looked at me and settled down. Then I asked, “What do you want to do?” Looking stronger and more contained she said, “I want to return to the group but let someone else be in charge.” And that is what she did. The next day I asked her how she felt and she said the talk helped her and she felt clear about staying at the conference and not needing to run off to be with her mother.
This encounter surprised me and enriched me. Sharing her vulnerability made me fully attend to this woman in the moment. You never know when someone might need a hand to hold through some type of suffering. I was glad I happened to be around and available for this. I felt an opening in my heart by being with her.
It occurs to me that in my regular life, I follow prescribed patterns and schedules. On vacation those patterns are gone. I can expand, slow down, be spontaneous, and be open for surprise encounters. For example, while walking in the rain in Sweden with my umbrella, I encountered a painted garbage can that sings when you throw in your trash! I was so delighted that I danced and made up a singing rhyme, “We have garbage cans that sing. It's a real Swedish thing.” I feel grateful for being able to be part of both the laughter and the crying in life.