There are many things I forget these days -- those that I remember are significant, usually because they touched me in some way, caused me to think, to question, and possibly to change. Mitch Albom's book, The Five People You Meet In Heaven, is one of these things. In case you haven't read it, this book tells the story of a boy who grows into a man and then dies and goes to heaven where he meets five people. A few of these people were obviously important in his life (like his wife), but a few others he shared only a moment with. At the time, the moment seemed irrelevant to him, but when told from the other's perspective, its importance was clear. This book reminded me that people touch our lives in important ways, ways that may not be apparent or obvious at the time, but that reveal themselves slowly if we pay attention.
Like many, the past few years have weighed on me. As I've gone from owning a multi-million dollar marketing company to working to change the world, the change in my pocket has drastically decreased, a fact that has led to the occasional day when I've felt challenged or demoralized. This Friday however, I was simply feeling lucky. My daughter and I were sharing a happy Friday night. I had picked her up early after a day spent at The Golden West Peace Conference and we were basking in the glow of being together while sharing a meal that someone else cooked. Great contacts had been made throughout the day, sales had occurred at The Whole 9 Gallery in my absence, and the future looked bright.
As our meal drew to a close, I looked up and saw a woman walking past whose discomfort was worn like a cloak. She appeared clean, but her layered attire was that of someone who lives on the streets, the wild mane of hair trailing down her back contained in a sock. She walked slowly past our table and returned to the front of the restaurant where she spoke momentarily with the hostess before sitting down. She used her solitude to protect herself and when I craned my neck to look closer, I saw that she was clutching tattered luggage on wheels very tightly.
As she sat, eyes cast down, others around her glanced towards her surreptitiously, obviously wanting her to leave -- the fact they were eating in the presence of someone who was so obviously hungry, an uncomfortable reminder of how unfair the world can really be, especially if we continue doing nothing about it.
Time stood still for a few minutes as I tried to figure out what I should do. Should I walk up and give her money? Ask the manager to seat her and pay for her dinner? Buy her a restaurant gift card? And then time stopped as an equally wild haired boy who reminded me of my son Tejan, returned from the restroom and walked up to his Mom. While I hesitated, they gathered their things, he held the door open for her, she rolled their tattered luggage out, and they left.
Willow and I quickly finished our dinner and got in our car. As we drove down Venice Boulevard, I had a mental conversation with myself about whether, once we found them, I should simply give them money, invite them to my house to shower and stay the night, take them to a shelter, or perhaps she had some skills and I could somehow offer her some work? I asked my daughter how she would feel if people didn't want to talk with me. Even at four years old she knew: "That wouldn't make me feel good Mommy." As we continued to drive back and forth looking for them, I wondered to myself where I would choose to spend the night if I had no place to sleep and a child in tow. Two weeks later, I still don't have an answer.
Since I read Mitch Albom's book, I've occasionally thought about the five people I'd like to meet in heaven. I hope that this woman who sat with her eyes cast down in shame as she bravely stood her ground waiting for her son is one of them. You see, I want to tell her something. I want to tell her how brave she is. I want to tell her to have faith. I want to tell her that tomorrow will be a better day. But most of all, I simply want to tell her that I'm sorry.