I’m weeping in my car in the parking lot of the 7-Eleven when I hear a tap,tap,tap on my window. Then…
I’ve been discovered.
I arrived at this moment in time 36 hours before a $100,000 grant proposal is due, 2 hours before I take 37 students on a field trip to Under Armour, 30 minutes AFTER I have forgotten to bring my son’s shoes to daycare meaning he can’t go to afternoon pre-school. It was the “I’m a bad mommy” shoe that broke the camel’s back.
The trouble is, when you’re the kind of person who has made friends with your daycare provider, 7-Eleven employees, and half the students in Odenton area, it’s hard to find a place to subtly have an emotional breakdown.
This brings us back to my student who has now opened my car door, tossed the coffee cups and children’s toys into the back seat, sat down, and is hugging me from the passenger side while I cry into her neck.
“This is so stupid.” I sob. “Nobody’s dying.”
“You’re just stressed, Mrs. Dziedzic. It’s going to be okay.”
A tremendous irony in all of this is a remarkable role reversal for me and this student from even six months ago. I have known Kaitlyn since she was in 9th grade and she has always been discomforted by seeing anyone…particularly me…cry. “Are you going to cry?” She would yell when we were watching one TED Talk or another. In fact, one day when students were working in groups and had to come up with a team name, Kaitlyn’s Team name was, “Don’t Make Dziedzic Cry.” Funny.
Junior year, though, was rough for her. She struggled with various personal and emotional challenges that had her missing school, quitting work, and having crying/counseling sessions in my office on almost a weekly basis. One confession that emerged was that she hated seeing people cry because she herself could barely contain her own emotions when she saw them overwhelming someone else. She was an empath who grew up in a context where that was a liability rather than a strength.
Now, if you’re a person who believes in karma, providence, serendipity, etc., you don’t see this tap, tap, tap as a coincidence. This was the cosmic wheel of comfort turning. I’m not opposed to that interpretation, but I’m not convinced either. That’s in part because today I stopped at the same 7-Eleven (DID NOT, break down in tears in the parking lot) but instead witnessed the following interaction:
I’m approaching the counter with my coffee when the young woman at the register glances out into the snowy parking lot, holds up a hand to me, and says, “Sorry, can you wait just a second?” She then rushes out to a truck parked in the handicapped spot where an older gentlemen sits with his window rolled down. She comes back in with a $20 bill in her hand, goes and gets a large coffee which she prepares like it’s her own, rings it up at the register, and makes change. At this point, understanding what’s happening, I offer to take it out to the man in the truck. “Does he come here every day?” I ask.
“Three times a day,” she answers. “I just don’t want him to fall on this mess.”
Last week I had helped this same man get into the store. He had tried to buy my coffee in return. I regretted that I hadn’t let him.
Today when I went out he said, “Bless you, young lady. Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep praisin’ the Lord.” Then he gave me a dollar. I kept it.
As I drove away from this scene, what was most remarkable is that it wasn’t remarkable. I began to recollect all of these similar human moments of connection and affection. Banter between regulars as they poured their morning coffee. Connecting with a local middle school teacher who was wearing her school badge. Hordes of children and adults lined up for their free Slurpee on July 11th (7/11). Bonding with one of the employees over a scarf I wore that had Nepalese writing on it. He was Nepali. He brought me back a hat after his latest visit.
We are all each other’s guardians. Let’s call it “Angelprocity.”
Sometimes this truth simply becomes more visible.
Tap, tap, tap.
(NOTE: Kaitlyn – not “Julie”- gave me permission to use her name. Thanks, my sassy angel.)