When my mom and I were grocery shopping while I was home for Easter, I asked if she remembered the Pepperidge Farm cakes we ate on special occasions when I was growing up.
They were kept in the frozen section in pristine, square white boxes.
I could not wait for the “suggested 45-60 minutes to thaw” to pass. I loved the cake, and I loved how fancy I felt when I ate it even more.
She laughed at my question and said it made her so happy that I have such special memories from my childhood.
And I do.
Memories of collecting S&H green stamps and then spending hours poring over the catalog with my sister, contemplating what life-altering items we should get with all of our stamps (great training for how I now analyze every single clothing catalog that comes in the mail), of going to Shoney’s and getting the cheeseburger that had a little American flag stuck in it, of waiting anxiously for Saturday nights so we could watch The Love Boat and Fantasy Island, and I could dream about growing up to be a cruise director like Julie–a job that required socializing on a boat with sunshine and cocktails (how I ended up a lawyer when I started there is beyond me too…).
My first Madame Alexander baby doll that I named Lisa. I literally loved her to death by carrying her to every playground, sleepover and swimming pool I ever attended.
My Mickey Mouse phone with the yellow receiver that I got Christmas morning from Santa Claus.
My Michael Jackson birthday cake (bet you didn’t see that one coming– neither did my mother at the time).
Hearing my mother say “Good night, Sweet dreams, I love you” almost every night of my life (in person and then by long distance calls and now by Face Time).
The thousands of nights (yes, thousands) that my mom spent reading “The Monster at the End of this Book” to me- and somehow managing to do it with enthusiasm each and every time. (And yes, I still have a copy in my book shelf just in case.)
The day of third grade when I looked up from my desk on class party day to see my mother standing there with a huge gingerbread house for my class to decorate.
Peanut butter sandwiches on white bread cut in half, day after day after day (because that was all I would eat for lunch).
As I have grown older, I have come to realize that the gift of these memories is really twofold.
There are the experiences themselves- emblazened in my mind and my heart. Moments where I felt loved and safe and knew that I mattered- a lot- to someone. They are like a security blanket for my soul.
But they are more than that.
They did not just teach me to feel love– they also taught me to see love.
I see it in the most mundane places….
I was at the grocery store a few weeks ago on a Sunday afternoon. It was so crowded that there were only a few remaining carts (or, as I tend to call them and get endless grief for, “buggies”). One of the many inventions that kids today get to enjoy that we did not have while I was growing up is the grocery cart that allows kids to sit up front and “drive” while their parents shop. Talk about an improvement from the days of being crammed in the little front part where your parents put you so you could not run wild.
As I was waiting on the woman in front of me to get her cart, I heard her tell her young son in a quiet voice “No honey. We aren’t going to take one of the special carts today. There is only one left, and there may be another mommy who comes in with more than one child and she will need it more than we do. Okay?”
I fully expected a meltdown to occur, but her son thought about it for a minute and nodded and that was the end of it.
I doubt she would even remember saying that to her son that day. She certainly did not realize that I overheard the conversation. But, I will always remember it (and I hope her son does too).
I see it in the young….
I also remember stumbling upon love at a birthday party for a close friend’s son about a year ago.
The house was filled with kids running around, hyped up on sugar and the rush that being around other children brings.
They decided to go outside and play (thankfully), and the herd ran for the door.
Then, they all seemed to pause at the same time and look back.
To see such complete and total motion screech to a halt was noticeable to say the least.
I turned to follow their collective gaze.
I saw the birthday boy sitting on the floor while his best friend tied his shoes for him (a skill he has struggled to master on his own due to some developmental delays).
As soon as they finished, the two hopped up and the entire group then resumed their mission to conquer the world.
There were no words spoken.
No sighs over the inconvenience.
They just waited for their friend who needed a little extra help- because they loved him.
And the old….
I am also lucky enough to get to see love in my job as a defense attorney.
Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?
I would bet that many people who do what I do have never seen it- never noticed it. But that’s because they didn’t have “Good night, sweet dreams, I love you” and peanut butter sandwiches in their Dukes of Hazard lunch box I would bet.
As sad and hard as it may be to spend your days asking people questions about some of the most difficult moments of their lives, you also get to see the other side as well.
The truth is that there is rarely a tragedy that does not have a love story tucked in it. Trust me on that one.
Many years ago, I was in a deposition with an elderly couple that had lost their child in an accident. We questioned the father first. He answered our questions quite stoically- careful with every word and breath- determined to maintain his composure even as we discussed what had to be the hardest time of his life. He never showed the slightest emotion other than through the effort I could hear in his slow, measured breathing.
Once his deposition was over, we deposed his wife that he had been married to for 60 years.
When she told us about finding out that her son had died, she began to cry quietly.
Seeing her cry- seeing almost anyone cry- broke my heart. No matter how long I do what I do, I will never be able to watch someone cry without my chest aching. (Thank God.)
As she struggled to regain her composure, I heard a huge gasp. I turned to see her 80 year old husband sitting in his chair in the corner of the room with tears streaming down his face. The stoic man from 15 minutes earlier was literally weeping so hard that his entire body shook.
I looked at him- and while I hated his pain- I loved his love.
And when I later asked her about her husband and I saw the twinkle in her eyes as she described how they meet as teens and I heard her advice to me– “When you find a good man, honey, you can’t ever let him go,” I saw her love too.
I see it in strangers….
Love is really what connects us all. Every one of us.
We don’t really think of love and strangers as two concepts that go together (except maybe when we are drunk at 2 a.m. in a bar somewhere- sorry, Mom).
But, I have realized that love exists there too.
A couple of months ago I had a terrible day. I felt unprepared and overwhelmed and underqualifed and tired and pitiful and angry and sad. You got all that? I was literally at my wit’s end.
I had an important meeting after work at a restaurant. I was late. I was panicked. My poor car was so messed up that it had lights of all shapes, sizes and colors illuminated and a loud incessant beeping noise accompanied them. Yes- I am serious. The military could use the car to torture people. It was brutal to drive it anywhere. But, I was determined to save money and put off getting it fixed as long as possible.
I typically did not ever valet my car because I was so embarrassed by all the problems it had.
However, on this particular night, I had no choice but to valet because I was late.
As soon as I pulled in, the young valet met me at my car door. I jumped out of the car and just laid it out there like a drunk girl on a first date. “Ignore the lights, ignore the noise. Don’t use the automatic locks because they have stopped working. I am late for an important meeting so I have no choice. I’m sorry you have to deal with this I’m so embarrassed….”
I then ran inside the restaurant without even giving him a chance to respond to my diatribe, terrified he would refuse to park broken me’s broken car.
When I returned to pick it up an hour or so later, there was a different gentleman working the valet stand. I was actually relieved- embarrassed by how honest I had been with the earlier valet.
He said “The other guy used to be a mechanic. He wants to tell you something about your car, okay? He is getting it now.”
Of course I couldn’t get out of there without owning my pathetic-ness.
As soon as I saw him, I began apologizing. “I am so sorry. It has been a really bad day.”
“It is okay. Look- everything is fine, okay? Go get a new battery in the next couple of weeks and you will be fine. Really.”
As I got into my car, I thought how ridiculous it was for this 21 year old kid with nothing to worry about to try and convince me that all was well.
All was NOT well.
I drove for at least a mile stewing in my self-pity before I noticed that my car was no longer beeping.
I turned down the radio and listened. I drove fast and then slow. Slammed on the brakes and gunned it.
Nothing. No more beeping.
Everything was fine– because that sweet stranger- and former mechanic- had fixed my car while I was in the restaurant.
I can’t speak for why he did what he did that night.
I can only assume he didn’t do it for praise or for money- because he did not tell me he had done it when I picked it up.
Rest assured I would have given him every bit of money I had in my purse had I known.
I really don’t know what he saw that night.
But I know what I saw- I saw love.
Sometimes I worry that love gets a bad rap.
That I give it a bad rap.
I seek it- and then I run from it.
I complain about it.
I emphasize its sharp edges that can scar.
I laugh at it, mock it, minimize it.
Pretend it doesn’t scare me. And that it can’t hurt me (such a lie).
But the truth is that this whole love thing- this emotion that drives five year olds to tie each other’s shoes and causes 80 year old men to weep uncontrollably- is nothing short of amazing.
And I hope you feel it- and see it- everywhere you go….
“Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice in wrong doing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes in all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (I Corinthians 13:4-8, New Revised Standard)”