Posted in Writing Life

A Brief Encounter with Meaning

Today I walked to the post office to mail a copy of my book to my dear friend J who is currently living in China. I’ve meant to do it for ages, but I was too busy and then I was recovering from being too busy.

So this afternoon I printed out the address in English and in Chinese characters, and packed the book, tape, a glue stick, pen and the address in my bag. I’d already inscribed the book, but on the way I planned to stop in a shop and buy a pretty card. I forgot. I forget a lot of things these days. Memory returned when I got to the post office, which takes up one corner of Shopper’s Drugmart. There were get well cards, birthday cards, anniversary cards, even cards of military appreciation there, but not a single, pretty blank card.

I checked the time. There wasn’t enough to go back to the card shop and get home in time for my children. I considered leaving without posting the book–and thought about how long it might be until I got around to the post office again. So I sent it without the card, all the while thinking about J and what a good friend she is, and how she sent a package to me with all kinds of delightful things in it, all the way from China. She is one of those friends with whom you can share all of yourself–a rarity.

So for J, I post this picture (click to enlarge) and the story that follows it:

At Shopper’s I bought a get-well card for someone I know who has just had back surgery. And while I was waiting in line, L, the cashier, was talking to the woman ahead of me. I missed the beginning of the conversation, but heard her say that she’s grateful every day because her son survived the car accident.

I asked L how old her son was. Thirteen, she told me, the same age as my older daughter. But he had been just five when the accident happened. That must have been hard, I said. Yes, she told me, her husband and daughter had died in the car accident.

My eyes misted. My son survived for a reason, L told me. For one thing, he kept me sane. You’d need a reason like that, I said.

I couldn’t say much, I was too inchaote with emotion, and thinking that this was about her and not me and I was not going to burst into tears. I said, Whenever I need a reminder that the small things don’t matter, I’ll come here and have a chat with you.

She said, The small things are important. And I said, yes we need them to lift us up.

I was wondering if the extent of her tragedy separated her from other people, the way these things sometimes do. Life had scarred her. It had raked her heart. It had made her different. We looked into each other’s eyes. That was all I could give her right then. A customer was behind me.

I walked away appreciating the gorgeous day and the fact that both my children were on their way home from school, that I kissed my husband this morning, that I have a friend of rare beauty in China. And I thought this: sometime when I tell someone what I went through as a child, and I am feeling different and scarred, I’ll have to remember that there are a lot of us walking around with invisible scars, and we are teaching each other gratitude.



Lilian is the author of Web of Angels, a novel about a mom with DID (multiple personalities). She's also the author of the historical novels, The River Midnight and The Singing Fire, about secrets, friendship and motherhood in 19th century Poland and London.

10 thoughts on “A Brief Encounter with Meaning

  1. Thank you for these words, Lilian., There are indeed more of us walking around with invisible scars than we can ever know – we are what Clarissa Estes called “the scar clan”.

    Yes I did read the Dumas book. His use of the black tulip as a metaphor for justice, mercy and decency was inspired. On the surface it seemed a simple tale, in truth it was anything but.

    1. I read The Black Tulip when I was a kid–I didn’t remember that it was symbolic. Now I want to re-read it! And thank you for the scar clan reference–I didn’t remember either though I still have Women Who Run with the Wolves on my shelves. “*Scar Clan* is…that timeless tribe of women of all colors, all nations, all languages, who down through the ages have lived through a great something, and yet who stood proud.” (pg. 374) And I like this: “Make no mistake about it. If you are asked your nationality, ethnic origin, or blood line, smile enigmatically. Say, ‘Scar Clan.’ ” (pg. 376) I found it here: Now I have to dig out WWRWTW.

  2. We all have scars to varying degrees, and most often I am humbled when I learn the true stories of the walking wounded all around me.

    Like the one you just told.

  3. What an incredibly touching story. I admit I live in dread of something like that happening to me because I often think I’ve been too lucky. It’s never the case that I forget to be grateful – I am so grateful, all the time. Mind you, I am often in the situation of forgetting blank cards when I need them, too….

    1. Sometimes I think I’ve been too lucky, as well. I have to remind myself of the contrary–and you too! Although, of course, that’s just superstition. But we’ll keep on with the gratitude and try to shed the fear, right?

  4. Very moving story. I’ve been thinking of accidents this week since one of my colleagues was killed in a motorbike accident. I didn’t know him well but it’s still been such a shock. One of my other colleagues said that life is so short and that we must treasure the time that we have. So true.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about your colleague, Pete. Those kinds of things hit close to home and are a wake-up call for me every time, reminders to let get of the small stuff.

  5. Oh my goodness, this story and Pete’s above has just made me want to bawl my eyes out – and go find my husband and son, who are giving me some time alone today… time I really want and need but which also always terrifies me a bit until they walk back in the door again. I think we all have scars, Lilian. Different, some visible, some internal, but I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been through something that rents at the basic tissue of being human. Love to you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s