by Michael Darling
It was a cool, rainy pre-Christmas Saturday morning during a California December, back in the mid 90’s.
I recall that particular morning as especially hectic. We had planned a party that evening for my staff and I didn't know what to expect from that! Most were people I hadn't worked with for more than a few months. Money was a little tight that year, but I’d decided to get a little something nice for them. Gifts for them, when we were struggling that year to buy for our own kids seemed excessive, but I felt it was something I wanted to do. I left for the mall early that morning, to pick up the gifts that I had special ordered.
Arriving at the mall, (and to my dismay), I discovered mayhem. The lot was packed with cars on this last Saturday before Xmas. I had to park out at the end of the long parking lot just to get a spot.
Rushed, impatient, irritated; those that know me avoid me when I'm like this…and I was in RARE form that morning. I think that’s why I was alone. My wife knew better. My kids knew better. Everyone knew better.
I made the long walk to the Mall front door, trying to ignore the milling masses of people around the front doors, which I noticed included a van sporting one of those retractable platforms for getting wheelchairs in and out. A person was being lifted up as I rushed by. I made only a cursory glance in their direction as I continued to weave around everyone, moving with a purpose, I finally got through the crowd and made it to the front door and swung it wide, now even more impatient.
I didn't have time for this!
As I entered, I came face to face with a group of disabled people sitting in the main lobby, obviously waiting to be picked up by the van out front. Young and old alike were in the group, obviously brought here by the service.
I hardly took notice of them.
It’s not that I didn’t care, I was just focused on the task at hand.
But, directly in my path was a wheel chair bound, middle aged woman. Her body was twisted and contorted to the point where it was actually uncomfortable for me to look at her, but as I tried to maneuver past her, our eyes met, and her face lit up with the most angelic smile I'd ever seen in my life…
She tried valiantly to raise her hand and wave to me, but it was apparent that it was a monumental and painful effort for her to do so.
I don't remember if I even returned the favor as I hurried past her to get to the store, but the smile on that woman’s face would not leave my mind.
Inside the store, I stood in line along with all the other "shopping soldiers" until I got my packages.
But, all the while, the light of that smile kept haunting me.
In my rush to "get things done”, with my worries about money, family, my job, and all the rest of the excuses I had self – fabricated that holiday season… I was struck with the realization that they all paled in comparison to the struggles that woman obviously carried on her shoulders each and every hour of every day.
How dare I even assume my life is a challenge, when I didn't have to deal with any measure of what she must endure everyday just to survive? The “weight” of her life must have been tremendous!
Yet, she met the eyes of a complete stranger that day with a smile that lit up her face, and by that light, a little window to my soul.
I hurried as fast as the masses would let me.
Coming out of the store, I was driven to return to her. I wanted to go back to her and look in those eyes again. I wanted to feel that light on my face and look at the smile.
I wanted to say thank you. I didn't realize how much I NEEDED to say that to her!
I wanted to thank her for opening up that dark spot in my heart, if but for a moment.
I wanted to let her know that I HAD "seen" her...and that I wasn't as cold as I'd probably seemed to be.
But, when I rushed back to the front door, the van had left, taking her and the other chair bound souls, moving on to wherever they were meant to be...and I was left with a lonely, empty spot on the floor where she had sat.
Driving home, that smile haunted me. I talked to my wife about it later, and maybe I even let a tear well up just a little bit…
So, coming to work this morning, many days and years later, in the face of new challenges, her smile appeared in memory again.
I realized that life, whatever it may bring today, has blessed me with health, love and the chance to do anything I want.
I was given a gift, those many seasons ago. It felt good to remember it.
Oh, and I still look for her every time I walk through that shopping mall door…still ready to say thank you for a wonderful gift.
Merry Christmas to your family from ours. May you all realize how many gifts you have, on Christmas and throughout the year..
In this season, we speak of angels.
Many of us don't believe in them, having never had the chance to really see one.