I felt a presence behind me.
I pulled my earbuds out as I turned around to find an older woman walking toward me from across the gym.
“I knew if I followed you I would find the cleaner!” she smiled.
I pointed to the spray bottles and paper towel stacked neatly on top of the trash can, “There you go!”
Normally, that would have been the end of a conversation with a random stranger at the gym. But something told me I was supposed to talk to this woman. I stayed and waited for her to speak.
She told me that she was new to the area. A retired school teacher, she just moved here to take care of an old friend from college after a major surgery.
“There was nothing left for me back home anyway,” she said. “All my people there have passed on.”
I knew exactly what she meant: my own hometown had been without my favorite people for many years.
She mentioned her son, and the conversation began to shift. I felt this woman’s deep sadness as she told me that her son was struggling. We were just days into the new year, and she shared that he had tried to take his own life just before Christmas.
“He just disappeared, and no one knew where he went,” she said. “It’s not like him to disappear like that. He would never miss our family Christmas.”
She spent her holiday calling around to local hospitals and police stations looking for him. Eventually, a kind soul at one of the hospitals said that he had been admitted there. She could release no information but could ring the room and see if he would pick up.
“That phone rang about a hundred times,” she said. “I had to hang up and call back until a nurse finally answered it and gave it to him. He told me what happened, and my heart just broke right there.”
I hugged her and listened to her. Sometimes, it’s easier to say those things to a stranger rather than to someone in your family who is scared and confused by what happened.
When she said what she had to say about her son’s suicide attempt, she assured me that he was a good man who just needed help. I shared that I had lost someone close to me when we were 23, and how I wished someone had gotten him the same kind of help.
We then switched to happier topics. She told me about her long teaching career, and that she was looking for work as a substitute teacher in the area. We talked about what it was like to be trapped in a room full of third graders—something I was experienced with—and how it took a special person to love that kind of work. She happened to have this gift. Sadly, I did not.
We hugged and exchanged names, and I wished her well as we said goodbye. Then, I went to meet my fiance who had witnessed our long conversation from the stationary bike.
“Was that a complete stranger, or an old friend?”
“Complete stranger,” I smiled back. “She needed to talk.”
As we walked outside together, I told him about our conversation.
“Why don’t you have a master’s degree in counselling yet?” he asked.
It was a valid question—one that I’ve asked myself many times before.
“Time and money” was the best answer I had, but those felt like excuses. Why didn’t I have a degree in counselling or, at least, a job in that field where I could help people?
It took me a couple days to remember how many people I helped with my writing. I’ve put my whole heart and soul out into the world and formed powerful connections with others through sharing my story.
I’m not sure why I let this happen, but whenever life gets crazy, I go into survival mode—a way of living I’ve become sort of numb to. All the good things I know I should be doing for myself go totally out the window and I focus on the most stressful part of my life. Lately, that’s been my day job. I’ve let it totally consume me.
It wasn’t until January arrived and I started doing my annual life assessment that I realized I’ve stopped doing most of the things that made me feel like myself.
For me, the most satisfying thing in the world is finding a meaningful connection with other souls. I could spend a couple of years and money to get another degree that would help me do that with clients one by one, or I could connect with many through my story—something I used to find great joy in, and something I still believe is the purpose for the suffering I endured in my younger years.
So I’ve decided to take my power back from my demanding job, and start running my life again instead of continuing to let it run me.
One thing I know is that people are in need of comfort, validation, and support. We’re more connected through technology than we’ve ever been before, and yet, we are the loneliest ever. Our interactions with others have become abbreviated, virtualized, and more anonymous. Making friends and maintaining relationships in real life can be a real challenge because we’re busier and more distracted than ever before.
In all that distraction, we are told to “man up” and to deal with the sh*t of our life. We’re not supposed to have bad days, or negative thoughts, or unpopular opinions. I’m saying, “F*ck that.”
We are so busy trying to make Facebook look perfect and Instagram filtered that we forget to be real and honest.
We forget how to be human.
Perfection is just a lie we are sold because so many can profit from our insecurities and perceived flaws. It is completely normal, healthy, and acceptable to be an imperfect human. Our vulnerability can only help create a deeper connection with people who are brave enough to share their true self with us.
I was grateful a beautiful stranger opened her heart and shared her story with me in the middle of my local gym. In the moment, I thought I was there for her but she was there to remind me who I was, and what I was supposed to be doing with my life.
When these synchronicities happen, it’s magical. Call it angels, or the universe, or god, or whatever you believe in—these messages are sent to us with an important purpose. And, if we listen to them and follow where they lead, there is no limit to what we might accomplish on our true path.
Author: Renee Dubeau
Editor: Angel Lebailly
Copy & Social Editor: Nicole Cameron