A few weeks ago I was asked to speak at a ladies club meeting to be held at the public library in a local town. I was honored to be asked and excitedly marked the date on my calendar. The lady who contacted me was a very sweet woman with a wonderful Southern accent. We had several telephone conversations and I must say that I was more than a little bit excited to meet her in person.
When I walked into that library today, I honestly felt like I was on the set of Steel Magnolias. Mrs. Pat is one of the most vivacious, happy, outgoing women I have ever had the privilege to meet. She scooped me into a warm hug and introduced me to everyone in the room within minutes of my arrival. She spoke to both of the my girls; asked their names and ages; and then proceeded to introduce them to everyone in the room as well. All three of us were just kind of in awe for a few minutes. Kindness radiated from her very core and it didn’t take long to realize that everyone…young and old absolutely adored her.
Mrs. Pat introduced me to the crowd of about twenty ladies who were all a good bit ummmm…more mature than me. They had all gathered to hear my story and to talk about my book. Local authors, it seems tends to draw quite a crowd and each person wanted to hear about my book. I did not know before I started speaking that every lady seated around the room was a widow…except three or maybe four.
As I began to speak and share my story with the group I could feel God leading me to say some things that I haven’t said before. Now, I understand why. These ladies were kindred spirits. They had all walked the same road I am walking…and each one of them had a story that was just as raw and real as my own.
I talked for about thirty minutes and then the crowd lined up for me to sign their books. I was amazed as each lady told me snippets of her story as she passed through the line. The all had good Southern names like Barbara, Frankie, Joyce, Mary, Chloe, Dorothy, and Sarah. Most of them had children and grandchildren. Some had owned business. Some had been stay-at-home moms before there was such a thing. Some had been married for over 50 years…and one sweet lady had been widowed three times.
Listening to these ladies share their stories and seeing their faces as they talked opened my eyes to the truth of where we are: we are survivors. We are women who have dug deep into ourselves and our Bibles in order to keep on living. We have faced death and we made the decision to keep on going despite it. We face the same struggles, the same fears, the same sadness.
Frankie, who lost her husband just before Christmas kind of laughed through her tears when I quietly asked her if she was sleeping. She responded, “What’s that?”. “Oh, sweet lady,” I said, ” how I understand!”
And, Dorothy who drove from another county just to meet me. She told me our stories were very similar and she just wanted to meet me in person when she saw my article in the newspaper. The handwritten letter she slipped into my hand for me to read later proved that yes, yes our stories are very similar. I hope my eyes shine like hers when I am in my mid-eighties. I hope I seek out opportunities to be a blessing to others like she did for me today.
And, Joyce who was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 6 and lost her husband of over 40 years on June 10. She didn’t get to stop and grieve…she had to keep on going and she did. She’s doing great now. The smile on her face and the squaring of her shoulders proved it.
After each book was signed, Mrs. Pat invited everyone to go over to the local café for lunch. She had already reserved the side room and they were expecting us to be there…so we went. Maggie, Linnie, and I sat in the middle of a long table eating fried chicken, green beans, and chugging sweet tea as these wonderful ladies continued to share more of their lives with us.
We sat mesmerized as Mrs. Pat shared her kayaking adventure this past weekend…and we eagerly shared our own. We listened as tales were told of travels in the years past and plans for more in the future. We sat in awe of the colorful conversation about 3:00 a.m. games of Words with Friends. We listened as they talked about knowing each other was ok if they were up playing that “21st century game” in the wee hours of the morning. We laughed as Frankie smartly said, “I don’t CARE to be involved in the 21st century!” as Mrs. Pat teased her about her lack of knowledge in this area.
I also noticed that each lady had a piece of pie or caramel cake for dessert. I laughed when Linnie saw one lady eating more pie than chicken…Mrs. Pat noticed it too and made a comment about saving dessert for AFTER lunch. The lady smartly replied, “Why? It’s good and I always eat my dessert with my food. It makes everything else taste better”. Linnie shot me a look that clearly said, “SEE…she does it so why can’t I?”. The fact that the lady in trim, healthy, and in her mid-seventies kind of ruled out any reasons as to “why not”.
Maggie watched the ladies with a quietness that I often see her study things around her. She was soaking up everything each woman said and she was committing it to memory. We smiled at each other at one point because we both knew this was a day to remember.
I will forever treasure this day. Meeting these ladies. Seeing their smiles and hearing their laughter. I will remember them on the days I don’t think I can keep on going…and I will force myself to live each day to the fullest, because I saw them do it. I will continue to seek out the good times and I will let myself be sad over the old times. I will pick myself up and dust off my britches…and I will square my shoulders and keep on going. I believe my girls will also.
Thank you, God for today. Thank you for showing me what it looks like down the road. Thank you for showing me love and for the assurance that one day I will feel that emotion way down deep inside my heart again. I won’t be in survival mode forever…one day I’ll really be living again. I know that now, because of today. And, I am so thankful.