Love, Presence, and Sauerkraut

Last weekend, I drove my girlfriend to the airport. She was flying off to Northern Labrador, a place where she does important work of her heart. She’s the kind of person who arranged to send a postcard to her kids every day of her two-week trip, asking various friends and the woman in the mailroom at work to post them for her while she is away. She’s also the kind of person who, before she leaves on any trip, reads The Invisible String (a gorgeous children’s book by Patrice Karst) aloud to her children, and reminds them that they are always connected by love, no matter how much distance separates them.

I am learning a lot about love from this woman. I am also learning a lot about presence and about storytelling. She is an example of what I wrote about last week: someone who is really good at “kissing the moment” or seeing with “poetic eyes.”

On the first night she was away, she wrote me this:

“After supper, I took a walk and met a guy named Tom from Newfoundland, and he asked: “What’re you doin’, wanderin’ around out here in the dark?” We chatted for a bit, he drives a giant excavator on the Muskrat Falls project and has been living in the hotel since April. He was wearing shorts, and it’s cold here, so I asked him: “What’re you doin’, wanderin’ around out here in shorts?” and he said he just popped out for a smoke.There are so many different people in the world, so many good people, all just trying to make sense of their lives and do the right thing, whatever the right thing might be, looking for the right thing. I am grateful when I have the chance to brush shoulders with people who would ordinarily never appear within my circles. It is opening.”

I thought of her words the other day, as I stood at the checkout at the grocery store, fiddling with my phone as so many of us do, inching forward as the line moved. Remembering this story prompted me to have a good long look around. On first glance, everyone looked blank and even a little bit sad. And then I looked a little closer. Someone nursing a sore knee, someone trying to keep three rambunctious kids with her, someone else mentally tallying up whether or not he could afford that last item he put in his cart.

We’re all enormous tomes, a million stored memories and thoughts and feelings in these bodies, but we look like no one special at the grocery store. Just another grey late October human being who is tired, worried about money, and wondering if they suck as a parent.

And that’s what made me strike up a conversation with the woman behind me in line. I asked her what that white carton with the red lettering was sitting in her cart. “Sauerkraut,” she said. “I’m making a Reuben.” And suddenly, the whole store and both of our faces lit up as we talked. I found out that she’s been making Reuben sandwiches for over 50 years. “Rye bread, pastrami, swiss cheese, honey dijon mustard, and don’t forget to warm the sauerkraut!”

While we waited, I found out about her kids, how she came to live in Halifax, and how she got mad cravings for Reubens every once in awhile. Once again, I was reminded of the power of connection. It’s not always easy if you’re tired or in a funk or you just want to scroll your Facebook feed, but what a difference it makes! I left that store feeling 200% more energized and had that woman’s dancing eyes in my head for a long while after that.

We’re all on our own unique path and we all have our stories. Isn’t it fun to cross paths and share stories once in awhile? Seeing someone’s unique humanity and experiencing first hand the goodness in most human beings is powerful stuff.

Don’t let the news fool you. There are far more good people in this world and far more incredible, heartening things happening than we would be led to believe. When we take the time to connect with the real people who surround us, that point is driven home.

Do you remember the opening scene of the 2003 movie Love Actually? Real people, not Hollywood stars, greeting each other at Heathrow Airport and Hugh Grant’s voice, playing over top of it, saying:

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion is starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. Seems to me like love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there…When the planes hit the Twin Towers as far as I know, none of the messages from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge. They were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling that love actually is all around.”

I’m well aware that quoting from this movie reveals my sappy nature and I’m fine with that. The holidays are coming up and this one is classic holiday fare. Watch it again (here’s that scene).

I will return to the airport a week from today and wait at the arrivals gate for my love. I think I’ll go early and spend some time at departures, watching the care people take in saying goodbye, the long hugs, the tears, the kisses blown all the way through security. And then I will walk to arrivals, and wait for her luminous face, seeing all the other reunions and the greetings. More tears and long hugs. More deep breaths and shuddering sighs.

To me, these moments, when we part from each other and then meet again, are the real story. It is the core of beauty underneath the clutter of daily living. In these moments, we beam love. We are love. We are home.


Originally published on my blog “This Sweet World”