The mall parking lot was packed when we pulled in. I knew it would be busy, what with Christmas right around the corner but my phone had died and I needed a new one. It was busy but not Black Friday busy so I was actually enjoying the walk with my daughter to the cell phone store. It’s funny how you can be around so many different people and not even take notice of what they are doing. Most times we don’t even care. Each of us goes about our business and then carries on with our day. I had the same intention, however I soon found myself engaged in a stranger’s meltdown outside the store.
I was on the phone with my husband trying to get his advice when I overheard a woman talking to her partner. They sat on a bench and had three small children with them; the oldest, a girl about 6 years of age. The woman was questioning the man about whether or not he actually wanted to be her boyfriend. I couldn’t hear his response and quite possibly he said nothing at all because in the next moment she got very angry. She told him that he needed to make a decision. She got up then, as did he, and she continued on with her tirade, more heated now than before.
I couldn’t focus on my husband who was still on the phone. I saw the kids and this woman who was losing her sh$# and a man who may have very well wanted to be sucked into the earth. I wasn’t embarrassed for her but my heart ached for her children, especially the little girl. I don’t even recall the middle child, he might have been around 4. There was a baby in the stroller and he was maybe a year old. That little girl though…I felt that she had seen and heard this all before.
How many times had her mom yelled at her because she was the oldest child and was expected to do more than others her age? How many times had her mom told her about her frustrations and worries more like a friend than a child? How many times had she felt that maybe her mom’s life would be better, maybe happier if she did more and got in trouble less? How often did she cringe, or cry, or feel alone?
This woman was crying now. The man had already started walking ahead and I think one of the children dropped something. She called out to him to stop. “I need you”, she pleaded. “I can’t do this by myself.” Everyone around her was looking. If they hadn’t been already, they were now. I had already hung up on my husband telling him I would call back. The woman stood there, crying angry tears, her daughter standing by her side.
I looked in my wallet. What could I give her? I had no money but I had a gift card. It had been a gift to me and I had only used $20 on it. It was worth $100 and it was for a children’s clothing store. There wasn’t a lot of thought behind the actions that followed. It was all heart driven which is me a lot of the time.
I went up to her and in that instant everyone else seemed to disappear. I said hi and asked her if I could talk to her for a moment. I reached out to touch her arm. “Don’t touch me!”
Calmly, I asked her again if I could speak to her and without waiting for an answer I continued. “I have something I want to give you.”
“I don’t want anything from you.”
I explained what it was and she softened. “Why would you want to give that to me?”
I told her that I saw her pain and that I could relate. Sometimes I feel so alone and overwhelmed. I give so much to others but I need to be nurtured in return. I cook and clean and take care of everyone else…but I don’t really take care of me. “Can I give you a hug?” She nodded her head yes. I hugged her and I said that it needed to be a real hug, as though we knew each other. I told her that I had learned that “I am you and you are me”.
She might not have known what I meant and it didn’t really matter. She was a woman just like me. We probably have very little in common yet I could see myself in her. I could feel her pain and that of her daughter and all I knew to do in that moment was to not let her cry alone in the mall.
She hugged me and when we were done, I handed her the gift card. I told her that it was a big deal for me because I am on maternity leave right now. She once again told me not to give it to her and I told her that she was worth it. She hugged me again with fresh tears in her eyes and I told her that I loved her. I stroked her hair and told her again, “I love you.” She told me she loved me back.
Her baby fussed then and I looked him in the eyes, patted his chubby leg and told him that it would be ok. Would it? Here was his mom both pushing away and clinging on to a man that couldn’t or wouldn’t see what she needed. His mom, in a public place, was yelling and crying much like he might if he felt his needs weren’t being met.
When I turned away from her, the man started to speak. He tried to tell me what the real “issue” was. I interrupted him and told him that I hoped he had a good day. I had already given away more energy than I had to spare.
They went on and I returned to my own child who was watching from the sidelines. I just wanted to get out the mall. I wanted to cry. Before we even started walking away, the woman’s angry and desperate voice rang out over the din of the crowd. It was almost as though nothing had changed. “It’s like you don’t even want to be with me…”
I took a deep breath and we continued on our way. The other people stopped looking and things began to go back to normal….back to being focused on ourselves and whatever it was that we came to the mall to do.
I felt heavy for a while and the desire to cry lingered. I told myself that I did the right thing. What it really was, was how much I could feel her pain. My hope is that when she is in a happier state she uses that gift card and remembers the stranger that came to her when she felt down and out. I just want her to know that she is not alone. Something told me to go to her. I believe it was her guardian angel who tapped me on the shoulder and I went. I have been that person and someone has been there for me. It’s something we need to pass on.