This past weekend, on my walk, I met a woman. I don’t know her name or if she lives in my neighborhood, or even really who she is – but I do know that God’s plan was for she and I to meet.
It started out just like any other walk with Oooj – we were on our usual path, through the tree-lined streets of our neighborhood. It was the first really nice day in – well, the whole year, and it seemed like everyone was out for a walk. We were stopped quite a bit – people fawning over Oooj (as they always do!), saying “What a cute little puppy!” Oooj has most people fooled, thinking he’s a cute little puppy, but really he’s a cute little old man dog. A couple had stopped us to pet Oooj and the guy said to me, “He has to be a schnauzer. Is he part-schnauzer? I think he’s part-schauzer. We have a schnauzer.” This guy was so excited over everything schnauzer, it was all I could do not to laugh, so of course I agreed with him. They gave Oooj a quick little pat on the head and we continued on our way, down the quiet street.
We got only a block further when a woman, probably in her late 50’s, decked out in her running gear, took her earbuds out and stopped and said “Ohhh! What a cute little puppy!!” So of course I told her “He’s actually 8!” to which she expressed her shock and then pet Oooj. And before I knew it, I was in full conversation with this woman.
“What’s his name?!”
(me, laughing – preparing for the look of question) “His name is Oooj”
“Oooj? What did that come from?”
“Yep, Oooj. I don’t know – he’s just an Oooj.”
“Oh, Oooj, you’re so sweet! Please tell me he’s a rescue,” she said.
She then hugged me, which obviously came as a surprise – since I didn’t know her – but it also kind of reminded me of my mom and I really didn’t mind it at all. (This is not normal for me. While I am totally a talker and a hugger, it’s typically not done with complete strangers. You live in a city for long enough, you learn some things. Head down and don’t talk to anyone or they will ask you for money. But this was different and I just felt some strange importance in speaking with this woman.)
“Oh I’m so happy to hear that. I rescue all of my animals,” she said.
“My mom would love you!” I replied. “I grew up with rescued animals – my mom was a pro at rescuing.”
“Bless her. Just bless her.”
She smiled at me, looking at me ever so closely, and then she said,
“It seems like you’re close with your mother. Are you two close?”
“We are. We’re very close. I call her ‘my best gal’.”
She teared up at this point, which struck me in such a way- and it was in that moment I knew there was more to this story.
“I was very close with my daughter. She was like sunshine,” she said as she continued to get choked up.
I noticed she was talking about her daughter in past tense and things were starting to add up in my head as I stood there.
“That’s so sweet of you to say that about her,” I said.
She paused a moment before letting me in on her secret.
“This May will be the one year anniversary of her death.”
Tears ran down her cheeks and I immediately held back my own tears.
“I’m so sorry”
“She was about your age. She died of cancer.”
“I’m so sorry,” was all I could say and the second time this came out of my mouth, I kicked myself for not having something else to say. But what else can you say?
“I miss her so much. Today is her birthday.”
Time froze. It was like in that moment I had an overwhelming sense that God had specifically put me on her walking path.
I didn’t think twice, and I hugged her. We stood there, me hugging her, and she cried. And I just let her cry. And I hugged her tight.
I stood back and and she said,
“Her name is Abby. Please promise me you’ll speak her name just once today.”
“I promise. I will.”
She smiled, and then I said,
“Today is such a beautiful day to remember your daughter. I hope you have a beautiful walk today, with her.”
She reached out to put her hand on my hand, gave it a quick squeeze, and just like that- she continued her walk and I continued mine – in opposite directions.
I couldn’t help but wipe away tears from under my sunglasses as I continued my walk with Oooj. My immediate thought was to call my mom. But I didn’t call her right away. I wanted time, quiet time with God, thanking Him for placing me exactly where He wanted me to be on this very walk. It occurred to me that I could have easily been on the other side of the street – having never come in contact with this woman. And I’d almost taken Oooj on his walk earlier in the day but got busy with things at home and didn’t take him until later in the afternoon. And could she have had that talk with someone else on her walk? Perhaps. But I think God specifically planned for it to be me. Because I had all of the right things to say? Most likely not, but I don’t think most people would have hugged a complete stranger and just let them cry on their shoulder. I gave so much thanks to God that He chose me for that, that He used me. That little old man Oooj was the key to something so beautiful that day.
I walked and walked, thinking about Abby. What kind of person she might have been – the happiness she clearly brought to her mom’s life. The memories she left behind, and the walk that she was undoubtably on in that very moment with her mom.
And I did speak her name that day. Not just once, but quite a few times. I eventually called my mom later that evening to tell her the story. The story of this woman and her daughter and I just gave more thanks for God’s beautiful, beautiful ways. That He is a God of little big moments. And then, when I hung up the phone with my mom, I gave thanks for her. That we’re both still here to make new memories together. To hug each other. To love each other. And that when we miss each other so much, we’re just a phone call away.
So, Abby, this is for you. Thank you for letting me be a part of your birthday, your walk with your mom. You are very much still alive in this world. You are still the sunshine of your mother’s life.