Ever have one of those moments, when for just a second, everything fits, in a kind of Karmic way? That happened to me yesterday. I was already thinking about saints, and all the people I knew who are no longer with us, as Sunday was All Saints Day at church, when we sing my favorite hymns and, as a bonus, have my favorite lesson -- the one where Jesus reminds us to love our neighbor as ourselves. If someone steals your shirt, give him your coat. Love, love, love is the message.
Anyway, I have written a lot of obituaries, so when we prayed for the departed, my list was longer than the silent period following the prayer allows for. I was feeling a little blue about that. Then Monday it snowed, which made me happy -- but the snow quickly changed to rain. I decided to shop for treats, pain gels and arnica for a care package for my son who is in Washington recovering from knee surgery. I wish I were there taking care of him. ("I'm fine Mom, please don't come.") He's 24. He doesn't need his mom for this. But I did have a friend in Haines who was celebrating a birthday and is kind of shy and didn't tell anyone, so I made up another little bag for her -- nothing fancy, a book (used, one of my favorites, she's a reporter and it's a collection of journalism by women called "Journalistas"), sparkling water, dates, dark chocolate, and a card.
While I was paying for everything for both packages, the clerk scanning the card asked whose birthday it was. When I told her, she said, "Oh no! She always bakes everyone cakes," and made a phone call. Just as I was walking into my friend's office with my gift, I heard people singing "Happy Birthday," and a "How'd you know?" Then the birthday girl, who was actually very happy to be feted, said she just learned she was a year younger than she thought she was. "I'm 37 not 38!"
As I drove home, feeling younger myself, I turned the radio on as Jeff said he was going to begin the afternoon rock show with an old record he was given by a friend before she died. Vicki Parker had cancer, and I read to her in the final days and held her hand, along with a lot of other friends and acquaintances who didn't want her to be alone. Who knows, I bet Jeff did a few shifts at her bedside too.
Vicki had no family. But she knew a lot of people because she worked at the gas station and always gave the dogs biscuits. She used to walk on the beach by my house with her own dogs and we'd visit. "She left me this Guns & Roses album, the original 80s disc," Jeff said, so he was going to play it now in her memory. "Rock in Peace, Vicki" he said. "This one's for you." Then on came "Sweet Child of Mine."
The thing I want to tell you is that the whole brief outing -- from care package to birthday to song -- only lasted about an hour, but it changed my life. Just like that. I know, I just know, that it all means something big -- that we are all in this together, that in giving we receive, and that there are saints among us and they reveal themselves when you least expect them. Like the hymn says: They lived not only in ages past, there are hundreds of thousands still, and you can meet them at work or at school or at the gas station or in the store or while you are listening to Guns & Roses on a Monday afternoon in November, and there's not any reason, no not the least, why you -- and I -- couldn't be one too.
Haines writer Heather Lende is finishing her third book of essays, "Finding the Good." This post originally appeared on her blog. It has been reprinted with permission.