This past Thursday evening was a Holy Thing. As I sat with Susan Cushman listening to River Jordan read from her new book, Praying for Strangers: An Adventure of the Human Spirit, there was an effortless spirit of peace that surrounded the event. This spirit I can only identify as the Great Creator, the controller of the Universe.
|River Jordan, Susan Cushman, |
& Emma Connolly
When a fiction writer plots a story, she or he must have some idea of where the story is going. I admit, I have written many stories that almost wrote themselves and I had no idea where they were headed when I set pen to page. But most of the time we have an idea, then it may (or may not) bloom into something. When an idea hits us out of the blue, and we answer the call, and that idea begins to be attractive to publishers . . . well, then it's out of our hands. Such was the case with River Jordan. I will not repeat what planted the seeds of inspiration for Jordan to write this book, and at dinner with her later that evening I learned more. You can visit her site and then read this book to gather your own seeds. Take my word for it . . . this idea can change your life in some way, just as Jordan says her life was changed.
I am basically an extreme introvert, although as I get older I have lost some of my shyness. It is an effort for me to speak to a stranger. I do speak to grocery clerks when they say something like, "Hello, how are you?", I answer them and ask about their day. Most of the time they seem surprised. But that is about as far as I usually go. I rarely speak to folks in line at the grocery store or post office, and almost never in a restaurant. When I began to read this book, something sparked inside me that I needed to make a better effort. How much I enjoy someone speaking to me, and asking about MY life! And everyone needs to know that someone cares, someone loves them. Could I possibly do this? Would it make a difference in my life by being bold? I made no decision on whether or not to try reaching out to pray for a stranger. I didn't have to.
I went to Target the next evening. As usual, the clerk asked how I was and I responded and asked her how her day had gone. On her name tag was "Erika"* in big letters. She yawned, it's been a long day. When do you get off, I asked. One more hour, she said. This is my second job - I go to my first job at 8am to noon, then come here. Oh my, I said - what is your first job? Taking pictures of newborns at the hospital. Oh, that seems like a wonderful job to have, I said. Yes, most of the time. But today it was different.
She told me that that morning she was sent to photograph a newborn with a cleft palate, and the parents were apprehensive. It's always the parents' choice to have a photo made. They told her the baby would soon have surgery to have the facial feature repaired and they could not decide if they wanted a 'before' picture, until Erika explained that she could do a shot from the side so that it was not face-on like most newborn photos, and she could do several and the parents could decide if they wanted to keep them or not. They decided to do it, so Erika angled the camera so that the infants facial feature could be seen but it was not the center of the photo. When the parents looked at the digital image, they began to weep and Erika did too. The parents thanked her and said they hadn't realized how truly beautiful their baby was until they saw the photos. She left them weeping and holding their beautiful baby.
The next day I had a dental appointment first thing in the morning. As I held the nitrous oxide to my nose and tried to breathe normally, the dental assistants were talking and waiting for me to get comfortable so the dentist could begin the procedure. One young lady said to the other, "Let me tell you about this dream I had last night . . .", and she told her co-worker about this wonderful archetypal dream. Being under the influence of laughing gas, I had no inhibitions of being shy. I grabbed the nosepiece and pulled it away. "I do dreamwork, come to the Dream Group tomorrow evening!" She grabbed my arm, "Get outta here!" and was very excited to learn there was a safe and welcoming place to tell her dreams. As soon as the procedure was finished and the nitrous oxide wore off, she was standing beside me with a pen and paper asking for my name and phone number and the address of the Dream Group meeting place. She was very concerned about her dreams, and I have prayed daily for her dream life since that day.
On day three, my husband and I took his mother to watch the sunset over the river and have dinner out on Mud Island. We had a lovely table outside. As we ate and chatted, we noticed a young couple sit on the other side of the aisle from us. The young man had a tattoo the full length of his leg, and it appeared the girl was carrying an infant in a snuggly. They sat down and looked exhausted. I could hear their conversation and the words sounded French. The music was playing softly a tune that my husband and I both recognized, but we couldn't remember the artist. I guessed the Beatles, and he guessed other artists but none were correct. The young man leaned toward our table, held up his iphone and said, "Excuse me, I know it is rude to interrupt another's conversation, but I was wondering the same thing and it's David Bowie." We all laughed and I asked if they were visiting Memphis. They were from Montreal, and they both worked for the circus - Cirque du Soleil, which is based in Montreal. The baby was two months old, and was born in Texas where they had been working for four months. They were on their way back home to Montreal until the late Summer, when they would begin traveling all over again. We had a fascinating conversation about life in the "circus". As we were leaving I asked the baby's name. "Eva," the mother answered. I offered to say prayers for Eva* and her parents, and they thanked me and we left.
I don't know if I would have spoken out to any of these people before reading Praying for Strangers. I can certainly say that Jordan has inspired me, and my life has been uplifted by the fact that I spoke to these strangers. The amazing fact is that I have not gone looking for these strangers - they just appeared. I look forward to meeting other strangers who may cross my path.
Read this book. Pray for Strangers. Pass it on.
* These names and places are pseudonyms to protect the privacy of these "strangers".