I considered it a parenting success, if not a personal one, the other day when I ran out of gas and my 10-year-old daughter immediately saw it as an opportunity.
“It’s good exercise,” Lily said as we walked to the gas station. “And a good chance for us to bond.”
At the Shell station, a pizza delivery man offered to take us back to our car. When I struggled to pour the gas into my tank, a guy in a big truck stopped and did it for me.
Later, Lily noted that running out of gas gave us a chance to see the best in other people.
Like a pregnant couple looking for space at the inn, we’ve been vulnerable and we’ve been blessed.
What really should have been our most stressful year (her father and I divorced after 10 years of marriage) has been among our most joyous. Strangers, family and friends — including my ex-husband, a dear friend himself — have kept us moving forward.
It is humbling to accept the kindness of others, but those of us who do are made strong to the point of being able to return the gift.
Stockings at midnight
I could start with last Christmas.
Like a lot of parents, my ex and I skipped sleep the night before to fill stockings.
Unlike a lot of divorcing people, we did this together.
We no longer lived together, but our wish was to spend Christmas in the same house with our daughter, opening stockings and doing the Santa Claus thing. We decided late Christmas Eve to invite his parents, brother and sister-in-law, too, and we were touched when they said yes.
I realize how unconventional this is.
But that night, our biggest concern was the stockings. We were prepared with goodies for mine, his and Lily’s; we suddenly needed to fill four more.
As our daughter slept, we scoured my house for anything resembling a stocking stuffer. Candles, bath salts, Jiffy Pop, olive oil, hot sauce, stickers, candy, pretty pencils, gift cards … If it was tucked away in a cabinet, drawer, pantry or closet, we found it, threw it into a pile and thought (rather seriously, actually) about whose stocking it belonged in.
We stayed up most of the night — re-gifting and wrapping these random things, talking and laughing. I remember thinking: The best of us is here, right now, in this living room. We don’t live together anymore, and our divorce will soon be final, but whatever this is — it’s good.
I was not wrong.
In the months that followed, he became one of many treasured friends both old and new.
Some will be in my life forever and others for just one perfect moment.
Lunch on a train
There was a family on a train in India.
My parents, daughter and I had spent hours on a plane, in taxis, getting lost, being scammed, and we were now exhausted and soaked with sweat and unnerved and worried we weren’t heading in our intended direction.
When we boarded the train, a man leered and grabbed me, and I burst into tears.
When we sat down, Lily asked my mother why I was crying.
We looked out the windows and saw people living in grass huts. I pulled myself together.
An hour or so into the four-hour train ride, the family across from us unpacked their lunch. Lily looked at me expectedly, and I looked at the floor.
The family didn’t speak our language and we didn’t speak theirs. But they understood that exchange and they offered to share.
We accepted their kindness, and I won’t forget it.
Sangria in the lake
One Saturday in July, my mother called in a panic.
My 82-year-old grandmother was not answering the phone in Alabama. Her neighbors had checked on her a few hours earlier and found her to be dehydrated, delirious and belligerent.
“Call her, Knight. She’ll answer if you call.”
The only person more stubborn than my grandmother is me.
I called until she picked up, and I pleaded, cajoled, yelled and even cursed at her until she agreed to my deal: If she didn’t feel better in the morning, she wouldn’t hold it against my mother or me when we called an ambulance.
My grandmother doesn’t remember the conversation, but she does remember the weeks that followed when my mother, aunt and I alternated trips to Alabama to take care of her after her emergency gallbladder surgery.
My week there overlapped with my aunt’s. It’s difficult to say who took care of whom. For my grandmother: We cooked. We made the master bathroom handicapped accessible. We hired an army of home health people.
My grandmother lives on a lake, and one day my aunt and I made an enormous batch of sangria and drifted around on pool noodles all afternoon.
Another night we cried together in the bathroom.
People all around
I remember what I’ve been given far more than what I’ve lost.
And this year, more than any other year, I’ve been surrounded by givers.
People who cook dinner.
People who pick up my daughter.
People who call AAA. (Holding out hope I won’t need this so much in 2012.)
I’ve been loved by people with open doors.
People who throw parties.
People with pretty guest rooms.
I can’t imagine what 2012 will bring, knowing that my “worst year” has so far been my best.
I can only pray that this is just how life is when you’re open to receiving:
One can never be too blessed.