A Safe Space
"Let me move my cart out of the way," the elderly woman said, pulling on the cart blocking my access to the watermelon bin. I smiled my thanks, then scrutinized the produce. They all looked large and green, some round, others oval. I thumped one, then another out of habit -- still clueless. What did I read on Pinterest about choosing the sweetest, ripest melons? Something about webbing, scarring and the yellowing place proving that they ripened on the vine?
I finally chose one that looked like the other 99 melons, declaring it the best. Getting a good grip, I heaved it up and close to my midsection, turned and carefully lowered it into the cart as gently as a newborn baby. I moved on to the apple bin.
"Excuse me. Is this your watermelon in my cart?" A quick scan of two carts, side by side, and I see that mine is overloaded with nuts, dried cranberries, and spinach, but no hefty, blimp-shaped fruit. The other cart contains a few small, unfamiliar products and my chosen melon.
I giggle. The elderly woman giggles. I reach for my watermelon and she laughingly said, "Oh, whew, I thought I was having a 'senior moment'."
"No," I said "the woman much younger than you was having the 'senior moment.'"
With a smile on her face and laughter still in her eyes, she managed to give me a serious look, "Thanks for the laugh. I just found out that my dear friend has died. She was a delightful person who always found something to laugh about. It is important that we smile and laugh every day."
"You are right," I carefully answered. After a brief hesitation, I impulsively added, "My eldest son had a brain tumor, and I moved out of state with him for treatment. We left my husband and 3 younger kids and were gone for 8 months. Those were hard days, but my son and I found something to laugh about every day. We knew we had to laugh in the midst of grief."
She nodded, still smiling. "Well, you just remember the 'Watermelon Lady' and that will give you something to laugh about." Another giggle escaped.
""Watermelon Lady' is easy to remember, but what is your name?" I asked.
"Lynn," she said. "And you and your son?"
"Tina and Sidney."
We continued our shopping, both still carrying sadness, but a bit lighter, the corners of our lips turned upward.
I thought about the 'Watermelon Lady' for the rest of the day -- how she risked being vulnerable with me, a stranger. And I wondered why. Did I do something, within seconds, that conveyed I was a safe person to be vulnerable with?
Or more likely, did the recent news of her friend's death crack her open, lower her defenses and I happened to be standing nearby?
Whatever the reason, she showed her pain and risked the response of a stranger. She needed something from me. I think it was a safe space, compassion and reassurance that it was okay to grieve.
But her need opened a door for me and invited me to share my deepest pain. In that way, her pain and willingness to be vulnerable were not a burden, but a gift. I contemplated how I have often found refuge among strangers more readily than with family and friends I have known for years. Perhaps they were not safe, or perhaps I feared being a burden.
But today, in less than 5 minutes, I shared grief and laughter with a stranger. She created a safe space for me to do so. I like to think she walked away feeling that I had done the same for her.
And it got me thinking -- how often am I a safe space for those closest to me? For my husband, my teens, my elderly mom, an acquaintance? Do I open the door of myself, invite people to share their deepest sorrow, their shame, their fears? Do they feel that I receive what they have to give without judgment or criticism? Or do I make them feel like burdens?
My new morning prayer: "Oh God, please help me be a sanctuary for my husband, my kids and those I meet today. And help me to find havens with other people. Protect my heart and mind, Father, if I stumble upon unsafe spaces. Don't let bitterness or resentment take root, but let me rest in Your safe space.