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The World as You Are

You do not see the world as it is. You experience the world as you are.

—Unknown

Driving to Columbus, Ohio on a crisp autumn day, I needed to make a quick bio stop. I pulled into a Pilot station and jogged to the women’s restroom. I waited for the next available stall. The stall door opened. A sobbing woman walked out. Her false eyelash on her right eye had come detached. Tears streamed down her face.

“Are you okay?”

“My son died last night. You’re not supposed to bury your children.  He was 30 years old, a basketball player-stood 6 foot nine inches. I’m on the way to the morgue in Atlanta. He’s been talking to me. His son, my grandson, found him. He died in his sleep. I don’t want to go to the cemetery. My sister died last August. Oh, I can’t do this. My boy. My boy. Oh, God!….”

The words tumbled out of her at the pace of her tears streaming.

“Can I give you a hug?”

She opened her arms. We hugged, held each other as she continued to pour out her grief in sobs, words.

Softly I shared,

“I almost lost my son twice. I can only imagine what you are actually living through. Oh, God, I’m so sorry. I’m here with you. You get to grieve. You love him so much. You will always love him. Love never ever dies. He loves you so much. He won’t ever stop loving you. I know this.”

“Thank you. I’m glad your son is alive. I don’t even know who you are.    You are being so kind. Oh, my son. You must go pee. I’m a nurse. Go pee.”

In the stall, I continued to speak to her.

“You are so brave. You are a brave Momma. I know you can do this.    You must grieve. You are so brave. You are here, alive.”

I finished, washed my hands, and hugged, held her several more times while she poured out more words about her son, her sister, her job as a nurse, her nurse friend who was driving her to Atlanta. I barely noticed the other women who quickly entered the stalls and disappeared. I pushed the heavy door open for her as we exited the restroom.

I immediately saw a young man moping the floors right outside the restroom area. He saw the grieving woman and asked her,

“Are you okay, Ma’am?”

I knew she hadn’t heard him. I gently looked at his concerned eyes.

“Her son died last night.”

“Oh, I am so sorry, Ma’am!”

She didn’t hear his words, but I did. His empathy wrapped around his spoken words, an energy balm like a sun-warmed sandbag in the midst of her grief flood.

I held her hand as we walked by the aisles of colorfully packaged snacks. I opened the glass entrance door. She continued to cry and talk. We hugged one last time outside in the bright sunshine. I wished her courage, safe travels. I promised I would pray for her, her son, and her family.

Back in my car, tears welled up in my eyes as I shared briefly with my significant other what had just transpired.

I realized I had held space, that I hadn’t internalized her grief, which is what I would have done in the past as the unhealthy empath I used to be.

I noticed that my practices of flowing through my own grief waves allowed me to embrace a complete stranger with much compassion.

Inside each of these interactions including the young man who shared his heartfelt condolences with a stranger, God gave me beautiful signs that I actually matter, that I belong to the human family. I’ve struggled with doubts about my right to exist, my sense of value, for too long. Centering in faith and love,  I ask to be humble enough to finally hospice my worthless piece of s*&^ self, along with her body postures, and midwife an enduring, unshakeable inner experience of being enough.

The tenderness and grace gifted to me by a nurse in the ER who hugged/held me when I wept with a grief-terror for my own son flowed freely forward to this beautiful, grieving nurse, a mother, a member of my ever-expanding human family. Her raw, vulnerable, grieving heart connected with mine in the very core of our shared humanity. I live utterly grateful for these blessings.

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Laura Staley
Laura Staleyhttp://www.cherishyourworld.com
The founder of Cherish Your World, Laura Staley passionately helps people thrive by guiding them to a holistic transformation of space, heart, mind, body, and soul. Laura knows that there’s a relationship between the conditions of our homes or workplaces and the quality of our lives. Trained and certified with the Western School of Feng Shui and seasoned by almost two decades of working with a variety of clients, Laura uses her intuition and expertise to empower her clients to produce remarkable results in their lives. Her trifecta of serving people includes speaking, writing, and compassionate listening. As a columnist, Laura writes personal essays focused on self-discovery, feng shui, emotional health, and transformations from the inside out. Laura is the published author of three books: Live Inspired, Let Go Courageously and Live with Love: Transform Your Life with Feng Shui, and the Cherish Your World Gift Book of 100 Tips to Enhance Your Home and Life. Prior to creating her company, Laura worked as a fulltime parent and an assistant professor at Ohio Wesleyan University. She earned a Ph.D. in political science from The Ohio State University. Her joys in life include laughing with loved ones, dancing, reading, meditating, running, being in nature, and listening to music she loves. She resides in Black Mountain, NC with lovable dog, Layla. Laura is a contributing author to the inspiring book Crappy to Happy: Sacred Stories of Transformational Joy

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13 CONVERSATIONS

  1. Helping others is one of the easiest and at the same time most difficult things to do. Usually we do not realize how much a word, a smile, a gesture can help a person get better, or if we know it, it happens that we are not able to implement it because maybe we don’t know how the other could react and we always have a thousand problems and conjectures about what would be right or wrong to do in certain situations. If we see someone who is ill, but who we do not know, we can pity him, we can pity him, but it is unlikely that we will be able to understand him or make the little effort to help him, there are few people who are really able to do it.
    You have shown that one can do it.

    • Thank you for your reflections here, for your kind words, Aldo. Presence, a quiet mind, my own experiences with grief, and that urgent bodily need to pee most likely supported my ability to be there for this grieving woman. I’m truly grateful.

  2. Wow Laura, this story really touched a nerve in me. I had a cousin who was killed in an auto wreck back in 1997. It hit us all hard, and his little brother was never the same afterward. Worse was that I couldn’t imagine how my aunt and uncle felt. Sadly it changed the course of their marriage and they ended up divorced several years later. It serves to remind us that no one is promised tomorrow. Not you. Not me. Not my cousin. Not even a random 30-year-old basketball player who we’ve never personally met. For this reason alone we should always be grateful for every single breath… Win, lose or draw we must treat every moment as a blessing, and whenever humanly possible share that same compassion that abruptly came pouring out of you that day in the ladies room… A sacred reminder, thank you so much for sharing this incredible story…

    • Aaron, oh, I’m a so sorry for the loss of your cousin-no matter how long ago -those unexpected deaths remain difficult to process, create much grief and those wake up calls to live-to keep going-as you have so honestly shared here. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t been touched by the death of someone in their lives. Like a fact of life that we tend to run away from, deny, and definitely resist discussing so openly. Yet, that can be where we meet in our raw moments-in that very intersection of life-death-love-compassion. I’m very grateful that this experience I’ve shared spoke to your heart-“we should always be grateful for every single breath…Win, lose or draw we must treat every moment as a blessing, and whenever humanly possible share that same compassion…” Yes, indeed. Very grateful for your open heart, the insights you’ve offered, the reminder that we are not promised tomorrow. Not ever. Death remains a humbling teacher of how we can live while we are alive. Many blessings to you and your family, Aaron.

  3. There is so much here, Laura. Thank you for being so transparent with your life story. You didn’t miss a thing about what was going on that day, with the mother, the women moving in and out of the room, the young man who showed his caring, and with yourself. You model healthy empathy and self-care, and deep awareness.

    • Thank you so much, my friend. I’m grateful, so very grateful for your kind words, for these experiences of being alive.

  4. What a loving, gracious heart you have Laura. You embodied what the Bible says about allowing yourself to serve someone else in the way you did…..
    2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Living Bible “What a wonderful God we have—he is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the source of every mercy, and the one who so wonderfully comforts and strengthens us in our hardships and trials. And why does he do this? So that when others are troubled, needing our sympathy and encouragement, we can pass on to them this same help and comfort God has given us.”
    I hope I’m as ready to be of service to another as you evidently are. It’s easy to be trapped in our own business; to have blinders on to opportunities…..or ignore them because of the inconvenience it would represent. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you for your beautiful words and the sharing of Corinthians as well as your realization that sometimes all of us can be swept up in self-absorption that we forget to focus out towards others, to easily notice ways we can be of love and service. For all the times others have been there for me in my worst moments of darkness, I now know I can bring all those moments forward to others in the ways that I can. I humbled to do so. I appreciate your thoughtful reflections from your heart, your faith. I appreciate you.

  5. I always, dear and wise Laura, have to take a deep breath before I take in your work as I know my heart is going to be tugged at by your renderings. Today did not disappoint. I come out reading feeling just so damn good about the cycle of life and healing. You were shown extreme compassion, you have honoured yourself in your own healing, and now you are holding the space for a complete stranger at a roadside washroom. If we could all take the hope and the humanity here and run with it, run with the possibility of not only addressing our own transformations but what they can infuse in the greater community of our existence. Whoosh! I am energized and feeling mega grateful now. Oodles of kind thoughts Laura as you nosh and I am sure give glorious appreciation to the road that you have travelled and the transcendent stopovers that have impacted many. Lots of love, M

    • Oh, I’m thrilled that you see the full circle inside this story, Maureen, as every thing I have experienced in my life, the gentle practices I have been doing for almost a lifetime-once I discerned the ones that fed/feed my soul-my healing and transformations-paying forward that grace to another human being. If that is all my being can become, I will walk in wonder, humility, and grace-and know that it is enough. And your ability to see this full circle reveals your own beautiful transformations, the safe and compassionate space you hold for many others, Maureen. For whatever reason living a human life contains all these experiences-a rich buffet, a full range of human emotion, heartache, delight, grace, and awe. What a blessing to embrace all experiences as they point us to a very divine place indeed. Your words and reflections fill my heart, dear friend. I trust you are relishing this holiday weekend! Very grateful for you.

  6. Laura this is so raw and real and moving. How anyone could allow themselves to be so open and available in convenience store restroom is a testament to you and where your default setting is. Your empathy muscles are off the chart, and as this woman heals and moves through her grief process, she will not soon forget the woman in the Pilot restroom who shared her grief and hugged her and cried with her. For all the people who are presented with opportunities like this and offer, weakly – “I wish that there were something that I could do for you…” You do it, without hesitation or reservation. You model what you speak of, and the love and empathy and compassion that you talk about ooze out of you because it can be scarcely contained within you. When we face devastation such as you describe, oh that we could all have a Laura Staley at our side to help us shoulder it, so that we can somehow figure out how to soldier on. This is just a beautiful story, and monument to “how to” in a very, very difficult situation. Thank you for sharing it.

    • Your kind words move me to tears, Tom. Please know I came to this moment through many trials, difficult awakenings, and the many times other people-sometimes complete strangers- showed me profound compassion in some of my darkest moments. I’m humbled and grateful to pay forward this love to others generously, unwaveringly as I’ve learned the other ways of reacting, ignoring, scurrying away do not bring the deeper, very human and humane connection in that sacred place. Maybe I’m naive but I believe in my heart-deep in my heart-that this ability, capacity, strength, presence, empathy, awareness is in every one of us. And I graciously receive your heartfelt reflections and incredibly kind words. I continue to learn from one of my heroes-the late Mr. Fred Rogers-and many others how to create safe space for others to be human and whole.

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