“I made a new friend today, a friend named Angela. We started as complete strangers and over the course of a spontaneous 2 hour long conversation in the self help section of Chapters, we became friends.
After leaving an uplifting psychologist appointment I wandered over to the book store to pick up “The Mindfulness Solution” recommended by my therapist. After finding my book I sat down in a bamboo woven chair near a woman reading on an iPad. Without thinking on the implications of what I was saying, or taking into account the given circumstance I asked, “whatcha reading?”.
Angela (who I would only know as the-lady-in-the-self-help section until near the end of our conversation) was reading a book about autism, to gain a better understanding for her diagnosed 11 year old daughter. As I would soon learn, everyone has their story. You never know what others are going through.
For the sake of Angela’s privacy I will not disclose all the details of the amazing conversation we had, but I will say that the music playing in Chapters that day was at times, potently appropriate, and at others laughably disconnected.
Angela is a fighter. Sitting in front of me, a survivor of breast cancer and a double mastectomy, the mother of a mentally challenged daughter and an adult from a childhood in a broken home. Angela had fought the odds to obtain a life worth living. Everything that she achieved she did on her own and in this moment, everything she worked for was being challenged. Only the night before her daughter, recently diagnosed with diabetes, collapsed in Old Navy having a seizure because of a diabetic reaction. Angela at one point said. “I don’t think I have had this much stress in my whole life as I have had in the last 6 weeks.”
It seemed that our paths had crossed at the crescendo of what has been the most stressful 6 months of her life. Personal health problems with her husband, her daughter and herself. From the immediate details of her current situation, to tales from her past. As her story developed and her human struggles became more clear, our connection began to take purpose. I was originally shocked by her forwardness and her willingness to share. Then I considered that she may be sharing because she needed the support.
What Makes You Happy?
Our conversation took a very unconventional trajectory, drifting from our mutual struggles and personal details, to stories about how to find clarity and positivity in the face of adversity and change. We became a team at this point, and this was truly where the conversation started to get inspiring for me. Suddenly we were brain storming about how to improve our situations in life and speaking to the opportunities ahead of us. We we’re in the “Well Being” section after all.
At one point I asked her, as cliche as I possibly could. “What makes you happy?. She turns and looks at me, ‘You know a co-worker recently asked a similar question to a group of us and everyone around me could list a number of things but I couldn’t think of anything.” After a possibly overblown reaction and a lot of calling “bullshit”, I stubbornly opposed this statement and began badgering her to find something in her life that gave her happiness.
It started with little things, we realized that we both had the dictionary.com app and got “the word of the day”. We hummed and hah’d over the dogs in our lives, and she confessed that she and her husband quite look forward to their Saturday morning walks at the dog park. I then proceeded to tease her about being an old lady. ;-P
She found a smile in saying that she loved to ski, but regretfully explained she hadn’t done it for a very long time. I began listing the world class ski resorts in the area when she interrupts that her husband couldn’t go with her because of a recent hip replacement. “This isn’t about your husband, this is about you. If it makes you happy, then you will do it on your own, and he will be happy to see you do it. ”
The Human Connection
Angela and I talked about some pretty heavy stuff. Heart disease, disability, depression, domestic abuse, mental health and rehabilitation. The dialogue had started with her opening up about her autistic daughter and was reciprocated with my battle with heart disease. Not exactly a picture perfect first impression. In a way though, this facilitated a flow of dialogue that most human interactions never achieve. Trust and emotional investment was the first step with one another, and from then on it was a supportive, non judgmental relationship.
We shared a very human experience in that little corner of Chapters. Each of us open and vulnerable in our own ways, drawn together by the forces of nature. Angela reached out to a random stranger in the most personal of times in her life and I was just so lucky to have been that person. She trusted me with details of her life that I feel many who know her on a daily basis do not know.
Near the end of our talk I showed her one of my most beloved and intimate coping mechanisms, my journal. As I brought out the leather bound book her expression changed. Turns out Angela graduated from UBC with a degree in English. She used to write every day in journals throughout her childhood and has not written a word in over 3 years.
After animatedly spit balling the benefits and holistic qualities of journaling, I insisted that we go downstairs and pick her out a brand new journal for her to start writing in again. The whole time we looked she smiled and laughed looking through all the various shapes, sizes and styles. Until she laid her hands on a simple yet beautiful, brown leather journal. She held it in her hands and smiled, taking a breath as she ran her hands over the lined paper, feeling the pages in between her fingers.
We bought our books together, hugged a very long, thankful hug, and laughed at the miraculous way that our lives had brought us together… and added each other on Facebook. ”