I stopped by the dry cleaners a couple of days ago to pick up a load of shirts, and my friend the owner was there. She isn't always. She showed me her custom-decorated finger nails with glittery crap that represented her soon-to-be-born granddaughter. This woman is really funny and always seems to be running on adrenaline.
She asked how I was, and I said I was fine but that I had sent my last kid to college and was in a kind of mourning. She hugged me and then talked about how sad she was when her daughters left for college. She couldn't wait for her son to leave, though, because he was such a handful. So many mothers of sons have said the same thing to me, and I'm beginning to be grateful I have daughters (not that I wasn't already).
While we were commiserating, another customer came in, and Hyper Dry Cleaner hugged her, too, and told her she looked great. Turns out this other woman has cancer of some kind and is in the middle of a series of chemotherapy treatments. She expects her hair to begin to grow sometime near Christmas, and she showed off her wig. It really was a great looking wig—never having seen this woman before, I had no idea I wasn't looking at her real hair.
Hyper Dry Cleaner introduced me as someone who has lost her last kid to college, and she used a tone that suggested this woman with cancer and no hair should feel sorry for me. I quickly said our situations did not compare—I felt so selfish to be disturbed over my relatively insignificant situation. But this woman with cancer joined right in on the subject to tell me she knows exactly how I feel because she has been through the same thing.
Maybe she was just happy to have the spotlight taken off of her, or maybe she was relieved to be able to talk about something other than cancer. Whatever she was feeling, I found great solace in hearing stories of someone else's struggle. Those ten minutes at the dry cleaners were like medicine, and I left feeling grateful for being part of the encounter.
Why do I keep meeting people without finding out their names? I think of Small Town as a cocoon where everyone knows everyone else. Clearly that isn't true. Clearly there are so many people here still left to meet, and they each have a story to tell. Some of them might even be interested in listening to mine.