It’s my birthday and it was a gloriously warm and sunny morning for November 12 in Minnesota, so I decided to go for a walk and enjoy it.
¾ into my walk I found myself a nice park bench overlooking the lake and decided to take a moment to reflect on the past year. As a busy entrepreneur, sitting still and reflecting is something I don’t take time to do very often so I was trying to be more intentional.
Anyway, I was sitting there contemplating what roller coaster ride God might have in store for me THIS year while watching all the happy people pass by when something rather unexpected happened that made my day. In fact, it is now clear to me this experience was my birthday gift.
A homeless person walked over to my bench. For a few seconds, I thought she was going to sit down next to me. I smiled at her and so she sauntered in a bit closer and then while standing there in front of me, she ask me a question. She said, “Have you ever had a tooth pulled?” I said, “Yes” and for some reason this exchange made me smile again. All my wisdom teeth were pulled before my three years of braces. I did not share that with her though because the contrast between our respective lives was apparent enough.
I guess she took our common bond as an invitation to tell me all about her dental history because she shared with me that she recently had three teeth pulled. She went on to say that there was an infection that had spread, as she gestured to the whole left side of her face, and so they had to pull the teeth. Being an “every 6 months to the dentist for check-up and cleaning” type, I tried not to cringe. She said she was concerned about something she’s feeling with her tongue in her mouth now that the stitches were starting to dissolve and she was wondering what the doctor might have put in the hole.
As she was so friendly and matter-of-fact with me about her tooth problems, I was trying to decide whether to be somewhat amused by this conversation or afraid that she was going to ask me to take a look inside her mouth.
I suggested that if she could, she should try to leave it alone so it could finish healing and then go back to have them take a look to make sure everything is OK. Then she pointed to where her front lower teeth were missing because they were pulled earlier this year from another infection.
Clearly someone had seen to it that she got some help with these inflections but not knowing for certain about her situation, I asked whether she could gargle with warm salt water in the meantime. I felt a little naive after I’d said that but she responded by telling me that they hadn’t told her to do that but agreed that maybe that would be a good idea. In hindsight, now I wonder whether she sensed that I wanted to help and was trying to make me feel more comfortable in our conversation.
To be honest, I was feeling a little awkward and wondering how the conversation would end. I actually debated whether or not to stand-up, politely say goodbye and continue on with my walk but I didn’t. Something made me stay there.
And then she said she wondered what she should eat (given her sore mouth). Continuing on with my own ridiculous agenda to try to help her, I suggested that maybe if she could have some soup it would help. To my surprise, she agreed and said she thought she’d have some Healthy Choice soup. And then she added that it probably should not be too hot. I agreed that that sounded good but I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not she even had someplace to have her warm soup. That is, if she even had any soup at all.
I had nothing with me, not even my phone (because I wanted to “unplug” for a bit) so I was feeling a little helpless not knowing my purpose for being in this place at this time or why she was sharing all this with me. I was unsure how/if I could help her as she obviously had some concerns weighing her down. So I decided to just keep listening and participating in our friendly conversation to see where it would go.
She asked what I was doing there and I said I was just out for a walk. She asked if I came there often and I said, “Yea, sometimes”. But I didn’t really know whether she meant to that bench or to the lake.
Then we chatted about the weather. Isn’t that funny? Most Minnesotan’s open conversations with the weather but not this woman – she launched right into teeth. Then she said she was wondering why there was no snow yet and we both agreed that that was a blessing. I couldn’t help but think about the approaching winter and glad to see someone had already given her a warm Carhartt jacket much like my own.
I asked her her name. She told me it was Joanna and asked me for mine. I told her and then I said to her, “Joanna, do you mind if I say a little prayer for your healing?”. She smiled a warm and toothless smile and said to me, “Thank you, Elizabeth”. And then she turned and walked away. I watched her for a bit as she sauntered away carrying her paper bag wrapped in plastic, all the while hoping she would be OK this winter.
It was then that I realized my purpose for being in this place at this time on my birthday. It wasn’t to “help her”. It was simply to smile and to listen. She asked me for nothing. And instead, she gave me a very special birthday gift.
I sure hope to see Joanna again some day. If I am so blessed, I promise to be more practiced in the art of listening.
My Dear Joanna,
May God bless you and keep you. May you be healed and stay free from further infection. Thank you for the gift of your time today – What a beautiful birthday present you gave to me!