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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » Life Preservers

   
Author Topic: Life Preservers
Sean Monahan
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I've been a member here for about 5 years now. Despite that, I know no one here really knows me, as I tend to only post in the fluff threads, and not get very personal. But I recently had a kind of remarkable personal experience that I thought would be worth sharing. This is a long post...

Last week, I travelled alone from Nevada back to my hometown in Pennsylvania for the first time in over ten years. However, this was not a pleasure trip. I didn’t really tell anyone, because I wasn’t going back to visit friends, or have fun. I was going back to visit a grave. The grave of a girl I dated named Jackie.

My week there was very hard for me, and is a long story in itself. It was awful, and miserable, and unpleasant, just as I knew and expected it would be. It was just a tempest of dreariness from beginning to end, and it seemed to last forever. But something unique happened to me while I was traveling back to Nevada.

I was not looking forward to the plane trip home. Walking away from her grave after I visited her was the hardest thing I have ever done, because I knew I would never be back there again. And I knew that I would have nothing to think about on the the plane but the fact that with each passing minute, I was being taken farther and farther away from her. I did not know how I was going to bear that. This was going to be a very unpleasant day. I got to the airport very early. The gate was full with passengers waiting to board the flight previous to mine. I sat in an empty seat across the hall. After that flight left, the gate was pretty much empty, so I walked over and sat down. Time passed, and the gate started filling up with people again. Eventually, as empty seats became less and less available, this woman came up to me and said, “Is anyone sitting here?” I said, “No,” and she sat down beside me.

She was sitting there for maybe three or four minutes, when she turned to me and said, “Do you want to talk about it?”

I turned to her, wide-eyed. “Pardon me?”

“You look as bad as I feel.”

“You feel bad about something?” She nodded.

I felt myself losing my composure, so I took a moment to steady my voice. “I came here to visit a grave.”

“I came here to say goodbye to someone.”

So we had been there for similar reasons.

As it turns out, her mother has terminal lung cancer. Her mother had not passed yet, but would soon. She had traveled to PA so that, on Mother’s Day, she could say goodbye to her. She asked who it was that I was visiting, and I told her it was a girl I once dated.

And before I really realized it, I was just pouring it all out. I told her about how Jackie had been killed in a single-car accident on an icy road seven years ago, but that I had only learned about it last summer. I told of how I had visited her parents, whom I had never met before, a few days previously, and how very nice they were, and how they had filled me in on her life during those intervening years since I had been with her so that I could get to know her a little better.

I told her I was a musician and that, a few years after the last time I saw Jackie, I wrote a song for her, and that she never heard it. Never even knew that I had written it. “Oh, she’s heard it.” She spoke with assurance.

She asked, “Are you feeling a lot of regret?” I was not composed enough to answer that question out loud. I nodded.

She tried to encourage me with the idea that Jackie would want me to be happy, and that I still have the good memories between us to be joyful about. It’s certainly not the first time someone has said such things to me, and it is difficult for me to acknowledge and believe this, but I accepted her kind words. I was weeping openly by this point.

I started to feel bad that we were talking so much about Jackie, instead of her mother. “I’m sorry about your mother,” I said. It was about all I could manage.

“Thank you.”

Within a few more minutes, boarding for our flight began, and we needed to begin lining up. We both picked up our carry-ons and stood. I said, “Thank you for talking to me.”

“You’re welcome.”

Our boarding passes provided us with numerically assigned places to stand in line. She was standing several people behind me. As we stood there waiting to board, I started to feel that I was a little rude for not at least giving her my name.

She ended up sitting a few rows ahead of me; we both had aisle seats. I noticed her looking back a couple of times. Then, about an hour into the flight, she stood and walked back to me, and, without saying a word, she handed me a book, and returned to her seat. I was a little taken aback. It was a book titled, “Heaven is for Real”, a 2010 NYT best-seller. It’s a protestant minister’s account of his four-year-old son’s near death experience when he had to have an emergency appendectomy, and nearly died.

Inside the book was a folded piece of notebook paper. On the outside of the paper was written the words, “To Sean”.

Now, I was shocked.

I just stared at it for about a minute. As I stated earlier, I never gave her my name.

I unfolded the paper, and this is what was written inside:

Dear Sean –

Before leaving my mother, she gave me this book to read. After meeting you and hearing your story, I believe my mother meant for you to have it - to bring you comfort as you heal from losing your loved one.

It was a joy to meet you. I trust you will continue to create beautiful music in honor of your loved one. She may be gone physically, but she is still with you spiritually - Let the love you shared bring you comfort in your journey ahead.

Peace and Comfort Follow You –
A stranger named
Trudy B--------


It was several minutes before I could compose myself. Does this really happen? Do things like this really happen in the real world? Two strangers sit next to each other in an airport. Within minutes, one exposes the most vulnerable spot of his wounded soul. In response, the other gives him, a total stranger, a book that was given to her by her dying mother. When does this happen? It happened to me, and I still can't believe it. After composing myself, I stood and walked to her seat, and knelt down in the aisle to speak to her.

“Trudy, thank you very much for this, this is very kind of you, but… are you sure about this? I don’t want to take something that your mother gave you.”

But she was insistent. I was in my grief; she wasn’t yet. She felt that, where I was, I needed it more than she did. She believed that strangers sometimes meet for a reason, and that maybe that was the case here for the two of us. I thanked her again; but I had one more question to ask. I held up the note she had written.

“Did I give you my name?”

She smiled. “No.”

“How did you know?”

“I’m very observant.”

I had to think for a minute. “You saw it on my boarding pass.” She nodded.

I almost wish now that I hadn’t asked. The unsolved mystery would have been that much more remarkable.

I was halfway through the book by the time the plane landed.

---------------

Every day, I encounter rotten people. Usually, several a day. The world is full of them. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t (necessarily) want them to die. But when I encounter them, I can’t help but think about what a wonderful person Jackie was, and what possible sense it could make that someone who was such a truly good person, and who had such a strong drive and ambition towards making the world a better place, has to be cut down in the prime of her life, while these miserable people still walk the earth.

I encounter rotten people every day. But much, much more rarely, I encounter good people. So rarely that it almost seems like I need to grasp at them for dear life when I find them. Good people are like life preservers in some way. Jackie was such a person. Jackie’s parents were too, as was Trudy, even though they were strangers to me. And it’s really rather shocking to me how easy it can be sometimes to open up to a complete stranger and show them the most broken part of you. What compels that? Why does that happen?

My father met me at baggage claim to give me my ride home. I was distracted; I was looking through the very large crowd just as thoroughly as I was looking for my suitcase. I wanted to thank her one more time before I left. I walked around the carousel a couple times, but didn’t see her. As we waited for my bag, my father was filling me in on everything that had been happening while I was gone. After several minutes, my bag appeared. I picked it up and we started to walk away, me turning in circles, my dad still talking.

Eventually, my dad said, “Who are you looking for?”

I just turned away from the carousel and shook my head. “No one.” We left.

Thank you, Trudy, for being a life preserver in a tempest. You made an unbearable day a little more bearable.

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Sala
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Tears for your grief.
Tears for Trudy's kindness.

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rivka
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Thank you for sharing that, Sean.
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The Rabbit
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Beautiful story Sean. Thanks for sharing.
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Jake
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Thanks for that, Sean.
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Stone_Wolf_
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"So shines a good deed in a weary world" Willy Wonka
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Kwea
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Thank you for sharing that with us.
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BlackBlade
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That was a very touching story Sean, thanks for being willing to share it.
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Shawshank
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Thanks for posting this. It's exactly what I've needed the last couple of days.
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