We lingered at the table as our lunch dishes were cleared, getting to know each other and sharing a bit about what had prompted us to embark upon an exotic trip to Mexico for a yoga retreat. Each of us carried a story – a little burden that we hoped to release, even if only for the duration of our week-long retreat.
One friend shared that her husband is battling Alzheimer’s. The lengths she had to go through to arrange care for him during her absence had fallen into place, and this week would be a way for her to refresh her spirit and renew her strength for their continued journey.
My mom’s birthday fell at the end of that week, so I shared that she was on my mind and in my heart. I expressed my desire to heal from the guilt I carry where she’s concerned, and I vowed to be more conscious and loving when I speak of my history with her.
And there was another friend. She looked me directly in the eye and said, “You know what I did, right?” She asked with such conviction, as if to set the stage for her condemnation before I even knew her story. And no, I did not know. So she told us.
She’s a busy young mother with four children, juggling all the activities and responsibilities that come with that. A couple of years ago, after a hectic morning, she stopped at the grocery store for a major shopping trip, preparing for a large dinner party she and her husband would be hosting that evening. About 45 minutes later, she was approached by a police officer inside the store and he asked if she drove a certain type of vehicle, with a toddler in the car.
Her entire universe came crumbling down. She had forgotten that she had her baby with her, and had left him in the car.
Fortunately for this young mom, her oversight happened in agreeable weather and her baby was ok. Had this happened in the heat of summer, the outcome would have been even more devastating.
Now, living in Arizona this sort of thing happens from time to time, and I’ll admit right here that I have never understood how. My judgments and superior attitude toward this type of thing have kept me from ever feeling much compassion for a mother who would make a mistake like that.
But here was my new friend – my yoga friend – exposing her broken heart to us at the beginning of our retreat. The shame and guilt and horror of what she had done seemed embedded into her entire being. She spoke in self-loathing phrases, without one trace of compassion or forgiveness for her mistake. Clearly, the mistake of her lifetime.
Alone in my room later that night, I recalled a time when I had arrived at my local grocery store. As I parked my car I noticed a fire truck and paramedics gathered around a vehicle. They were pulling a crying toddler out of the car.
As I walked toward the store entrance, a frantic young mother came rushing out with a police officer by her side. For whatever reason, I grabbed her and gave her a tight hug. I told her, “Your baby is ok. Everything is going to be ok.” She clung to me briefly, and then pushed me away to be with her child.
Over the past couple of years I’ve thought about that young mom, and have even slightly ridiculed myself for stopping her in her tracks, almost forcing her to receive a hug from a complete stranger and delaying her reunion with her distressed child. What on earth possessed me to do that?
And then I wondered. Could that frightened young mother have been my new yoga friend? What were the odds that in this big city we live in…? Could that have been her that I hugged?
The following day we toured Mayan ruins, had a picnic lunch in the jungle, floated down a lazy river, and enjoyed wine and cheese together with our group. The question burned inside of me and I hated to bring it up again, but I finally mustered the courage to ask, “What store were you at when you forgot your baby in the car?”
Her answer confirmed what I already knew in my heart. It was the same store I’d been at, and the same timeframe. I asked if she remembered being hugged by a stranger when she came out of the store with the police officer. Her eyes widened with curiosity. How could I know that? She did remember. That stranger was me!
This time our hug lasted longer. This time there was love, compassion and understanding between us. We had shared a moment in time that had been so raw and personal – a moment in time before we ever knew we’d eventually call ourselves friends.
What an amazing reminder that something greater than all of us provides for us in our darkest times. I believe that we are always divinely guided and protected, and occasionally we are called upon to guide and protect.
What on earth would have possessed me to hug a distraught young mother I didn’t know?
What, on Earth, indeed.
PS: Please, will you do me a favor? Will you lift a prayer for my friend, surround her in love and compassion, and pray that she will find a way to forgive herself for her mistake. Will you take a moment to acknowledge someone you may have judged in the past for a mistake they've made, and know that they are so much harder on themselves that we can ever be. And if you choose to leave a comment here on my blog, or on Facebook, will you please do so with love and compassion for my friend. I'd be so grateful.