After a cold shower this morning I called the gas company to see what was going on with the hot water heater, as I cook breakfast just fine. They said they'd send someone out. And she arrived in a jiffy. Impressive for the gas company! I never got her name, but she gave me a dose of perspective that I needed, and you do too, probably. She reminded me how truly blessed I am and that a woman is strong enough to do it all on her own.
My dad is a talker and I don't mean he just likes to talk, he will trap you, if you're not careful, unless you can come up with a creative way to depart without hurting his feelings. This morning, Gas Gal, well, I think she just needed someone to listen. So, after my near death experience with Angry Smelly Homeless Man, I felt God was reminding me....
After cheating on her, for what she thinks was years, her husband left her with a four and eight year old. This was nearly 30 years ago, because she mentioned her daughter is now 37. Her douche bag husband canceled insurance for her and her children and she came to work for the gas company - hey, utilities pay well and have great bennies plus pension (although State of Illinois owes millions and millions to people). Smart gal - she raised her children on her own, one with autism and now in assisted living, and later met a man who would be her boyfriend for 21 years. He passed away four years ago.
Since his passing she was rear-ended in a car accident leaving her with a back injury. The gas company put her on painting duties - meaning she paints gas meters, and such. Turns out Gas Gal was allergic to the fumes but after several months of exposure the damage was done and she now suffers from a major respiratory problem. The steroids leave her bloated and she was no doubt winded climbing to my attic to look at the water heater. If that wasn't enough, the poor gal had four, count them FOUR abscessed teeth in the next year (I've had ONE and that was enough for me), leaving her with a few holes in her sweet smile. Still, she laughed through the recount of her personal trials. It was a cacophony of tragedy. Every time I felt it couldn't get worse, it did.
By the time we were in the attic, she announced that she has nine cats - six she found on the streets while working for the gas company and three she's been helping care for since a friend had to move in with her mother and the landlord won't allow them to stay. She's had them for two years. So, of course, because of Meow Mix we bonded. As she slowly bent to her knees on the floor to look at the water heater, she starts talking about Dewey Readmore Books - the famous Iowa library cat for which their is a need-a-box-of-kleenex-to-read-book about. It's fabulous. Trust me. Sniffle, sniffle (thanks to my cat-loving friend and namesake of Meow Mix*).
At that point, Gas Gal just started talking, and talking and talking.
As we made our way back down from the attic, I was somewhat annoyed and thinking I have so much to do today, and then I sensed that she just needed someone to listen. I praised her for being such a strong woman, for taking a man's job, earning her way, fighting for equal pay, working hard and taking care of her children. She told me her daughter married a buffoon but had his baby, anyway, at 37 and that there's more than enough years and opportunity for me (love her!). Apparently this buffoon, aka beloved douche bag, with a British accent (how many times have woman been swayed by less?) had a criminal record for which he never told his wife and mother of his child. He's apparently stuck in England because Canada rejected his visa after learning of drugs and the small incident of chasing his sister out a window while high as a kite and, after dangling for a moment by her legs, left her to fall two stories below. Gas Gal, of course, took her in for convalescence. Douche bag then threatened Gas Gal with her life if his sister wasn't returned to his family. Wow!
From there it was an ever flowing cascade of children, grandchildren, great nieces and nephews, and cats, for which Gas Gal recounted each place she found them, their names (courtesy of her autistic, but brilliant son who managed to come up with first and middle names that roll off your tongue with a smooth perfection; like a song) and how she nursed them all back to health. Her loss and hopes for retirement. Fear of moving and having to release some of her beloved cats to rescue organizations and somberness thinking about her many trials.
At one point, as she told me that she lost her boyfriend of over two decades four years ago, I felt tears and emotion rising in her. She told me that she's been lost in mourning and a little depressed since the loss. Oh, how I related to her in feeling lost! Mine seems quite trivial after meeting Gas Gal. Those who know me know that I was compelled to give her a hug, but I didn't. Instead I told her that good things and many more blessings would be on their way, and that she is in my prayers. I felt bad inching away from her to end the conversation, so I did and then stayed and listened a little bit longer to her story. What I heard was a woman, whose life has been full of so many, unexpected tragedies, find joy and happiness in her children, family and cats (like children). We all have to find those things, those reasons to pull through.
Finally, she wished me well and apologized for taking up my time. I said "You're not taking up any one's time. It's been such a pleasure to meet you. Have a wonderful day and enjoy this beautiful weather!" With that, we parted. I back into my apartment (which I now know has a load of violations against it! Another reason to leave), and she into her gas van.
As a journalist, and a wear-my-heart-on-my-sleeve-kind-of-gal, I've long believed that every single person alive or passed has a story. One that will make you laugh; one to make you get up and sing; one that will make you pause and think; one that will cause you take action and one that will break your heart. No matter the story they are all interesting and important. They are our stories and lives, and they are all valuable.
So, Gas Gal, I saw you today. I heard you and your story today and I will pray that you receive all the blessings that God, the universe, whatever you want to call it, so rightly wants to bring to you. For me, you reminded me that my compassion isn't maybe as compassionate as I'd like to think. That I, too, am guilty of not wanting to be bothered by anything that doesn't effect me directly or take the time to really hear someone. You've reminded me that aside of my personal struggles and worries, that my life is all too blessed. That the little things are what matter, next to family, and that through it all we have to keep on truckin' through life to get to that place of peace and grace of which we're being led.
More importantly, you reminded me that it's important that we all take a moment to stop, look and listen to someone. My father always says that one smile, one hello can change the outcome of someone's day. Go do it, be it, and pass it on.