Hot chocolate in one hand and a shopping bag in the other, I navigated my way through the jam-packed coffee shop looking for two things: an electric outlet and an empty seat. Lucky me. I found an outlet right away, and after I plugged in my iPhone, I heard a sweet voice saying, “Let me move over for you. Come, sit down.”
“That’s okay,” I said. “I don’t want to crowd anyone.”
Not taking no for an answer, a pretty middle-aged woman with dark hair patted the seat next to her and gave me the most sincere, welcoming smile I’d seen all day. We began chitchatting, and I told her I was in the city with friends. An NYC native, she told me she’d been searching for just the perfect gift for her physical therapist.
“I don’t know whether this will help you or not, but I saw Sing with my grandchildren last week, and one of the characters said something like, ‘Let the gift find you.’”
When she gave me a quizzical look, I said, “Maybe you’re trying too hard. But since you’re in Macy’s, why not get her a gift card? That way she can pick out something she really likes.”
She laughed. “I was making it so hard when really that would be perfect.”
We then moved on to her damaged shoulder, the one the therapist was helping her with. A work injury had necessitated rotator cuff surgery, and weeks of therapy followed. I checked my phone for its charge and the time before asking how the tear had occurred.
Our light banter ended, and the conversation took a serious turn.
“Twenty-five years of lifting patients caught up with me,” she said, adding, “I don’t think I can do it anymore.”
“You probably just need to give yourself more time. How long has it been?”
“I don’t mean physically. I just don’t see how I can go back to the oncology floor. All that suffering….”
“It takes a special person to work with cancer patients. My mother died of cancer, and she was a trooper. She fought hard for five years, and then three weeks before her death, she told us she was ready to ‘go.’”
“Did you argue with her? Tell her not to be foolish?”
I winced at the recollection of that morning in my mother’s kitchen when she delivered the news. “You didn’t argue with her. She was a feisty lady who never put up with back talk from her kids.”
“Sometimes family members just won’t let loved ones go. Even if they can’t walk, talk, or eat, people try to hold on to them. I’ve seen patients in so much pain they go from one morphine drip to the next, and still, someone stands around the bed talking about a new drug or an experimental treatment.”
“But it’s hard,” I said. “Giving up hope and watching someone you love die is, well, it’s horrible.”
Was I really having this conversation with a stranger in Starbucks?
The gentle stranger leaned towards me and said, “What’s important is that you keep your spirit strong. No matter who you are or what you’re going through, you have to have faith.”
She pointed to the ceiling. “You have to have faith in our Heavenly Father who created us and loves us.”
She continued. “He’s helped me so much in my life. I have four children that I raised by myself. Every week the Yogi Bear truck would come to our neighborhood and bring treats for the children. But first…first, they had to listen to the word of God.”
“Sort of like a church on wheels?”
“Something like that.”
My new acquaintance scrolled through her iPhone photos until she found one of her four children, all beautiful and smiling at the camera. She touched each face gently with her forefinger and told the child’s name and current occupation. One was a college grad working in the city, one was in college, and two were in high school.”
While I was admiring her children, she repeated, “Remember, you must keep your spirit strong. Stay away from negative people, people who bring you down.”
“Hey, you’re singing my song,” I told her. “Two of my favorite phrases are ‘detach with love’ and ‘sidestep negative energy.’”
She nodded before continuing. She had seen a seven-day-old infant with a chemo bag attached to his tiny body. “He died anyway,” she said. “I just can’t watch it anymore. The drugs, the false hope. It’s more than I can bear.”
We chatted a few more minutes about keeping our spirits strong, having faith in God, and loving others. We hugged before parting, and she told me her name was Yvette with a y. I told her I was Jayne with a y, and we hugged again before going our separate ways.
I walked down the curved staircase to Macy’s main floor and quickly found my friends at the Michael Kors counter. “Ya’ll wouldn’t believe what happened to me,” I said. “But it’s too noisy to talk about it here.”
We slid on our gloves, adjusted our scarves and hats, and walked out among the holiday shoppers in Herald Square.