Friday, July 17, 2015

Never Underestimate the Value of A Chance Encounter

I learned a valuable lesson this afternoon. It came at me unexpectedly, and rather loudly. It made me smile and brought more than one tear to my eye. It erased all the angst of getting myself and my suitcase and my overloaded giant purse from Long Island to mid-town Manhattan. It left me with a gigantic smile on my face and a lovely, warm, gushy feeling in my heart.

It all started three years ago, the last time BlogHer held a conference in New York City. The venue was the Midtown Hilton, a mega-hotel on 6th Avenue. I arrived late in the evening, after watching the Olympics' men's beach volleyball competition. Those tiny little bathing suits and those perfect pecs stayed with me as I waited patiently for a registration clerk.

She was as tired as I was, but we both agreed that thinking about those tiny little bathing suits could cheer us up in no time. She'd been watching it, too. We marveled at the feats the human body could accomplish while looking so good, wearing next to nothing. We laughed about the impossibility of creating that look for ourselves, or any of the men in our lives, though we were happy enough with life as it was.

I don't remember if she recognized my name, or if she asked me about my cane, or if January 8th came up in another context. As always happened with kind hearted souls, she was touched. She admired my fortitude in venturing cross country alone, putting myself in crowded situations which made me vaguely uncomfortable. She talked about watching the news coverage, crying over the loss of life and the damage to the lives of those of us who survived. She was proud to be speaking to a survivor; she admired my spirit.

If there were people in line behind me, we didn't notice them. We were wrapped up in the connection we'd created across the counter. I felt like I was staying with a friend.

She found me a beautiful room and sent me on my way.

The next afternoon, returning to my room for a quick shower before the conference's afternooon sessions began, I found a bottle of champagne, six chocolate dipped strawberries, and a lovely note. She was pleased to have met me, delighted to have helped me, and hoped I enjoyed the Hilton.

With bubbles rising in my glass, I toasted her kindness.

Fast forward to this afternooon. After a lovely morning on the boardwalk in Long Beach with Roomie,
full of pastrami on rye, I rode the Long Island Railroad into Penn Station. I walked the wrong way on 33rd Street, ending up on 8th Avenue instead of 6th. (They can call it Avenue of the Americas all they want; it will always be 6th Avenue to me.)

The taxi driver hopped out and shoved my suitcase into the back seat and was in his seat before the light changed. Thirty minutes of horrendous traffic later he unloaded the luggage at the Midtown Hilton.

I was hot and aggravated; there were more cars on the road in those 20 blocks than I see in a week in Tucson. There were jaywalkers and trucks turning left from the center lane and horns blaring and bicycle delivery people careening between the lanes. New York City is many things; busy is one of them.

The line for registration at the Hilton was only 5 people deep. In a 46 story hotel at 3pm this felt like a good sign. I waited patiently, moved to the desk when it was my turn, and began to engage the clerk in polite banter. I was hopeful that I could cute my way into a room on a high floor. I was tired and wanted to be up and away from the street noise.

Before I could wonder about my room, though, we were interrupted by a loud voice calling my name.

It was Kathleen, the registration clerk from three years ago.

Did I remember her? Did I remember talking about the Olympics and those teeny tiny bathing suits? Of course I did!

My original clerk handed me off to my old friend, who, by that time, had come around to the front of the desk to hug me. She said that seeing my name on the guest list for the conference had her eagerly anticipating my arrival. She told her colleagues about me. She hoped I'd check in while she was on duty..... and there I was.

There was more hugging, more laughing, and then the conversation turned serious. She said that my story had resonated with her more than she imagined it would. She often thought of me and of Christina-Taylor. She kept the paperwork from my stay in a folder on her desk, to remind her of our conversation.

And then there was Newtown and there were more dead children and, in the aftermath, the communty's challenge to the nation - Do 26 acts of kindness to remember the 26 murdered in the elementary school.

“I accepted that challenge. I thought of you and I did it.”

Stunned is a fairly apt description of my reaction. I told my story quite often in those days, to friends and strangers and registration clerks, but I never expected to have a personal impact on any of them. I felt that I was satisfying curiosity and I hoped that hearing my story would make a difference in their attitudes toward gun safety but it never occurred to me that a woman behind a hotel desk would change her life after talking to me.

She did. I cried. She cried.

We hugged, I got my key card, and I went up to the 40th floor to a lovely room with a great view downtown. And, when I came back after dinner, there was another bottle of champagne and a luscious dessert waiting for me on the dresser.

I toasted Kathleen once again, marveling at it all.

Sometimes, life throws you a ray of sunshine in the most unexpected manner. I'm holding this afternoon in my heart forever. After all, it's not often that the consequences of my actions come back to hug me in a hotel lobby.


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