She remembered things differently from what I could recall. Seasoned in some ways, I couldn’t see what was right in front of me. Despite our proximity, there was a lot in the way.
Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
Decades ago now, my volunteer job at a health food shop slotted me in the Saturday evening shift with Nancy. (And yes, that is her real name, because I somehow hope she might know how much she meant to me). I stood at least a head taller than Nancy, who had incessantly pink cheeks and a glorious cascade of waist-length gray and white hair which, even when pinned up, made me stare.
Nancy taught me how to clean the bulk bins of rye flour, green and yellow lentils, and dried cranberries. She led me down the stairs past the old conveyor belt where she explained the steps to putting the store in order for the next day’s business. We swept the floor, emptied the garbage, and cleaned the bathroom. Before my first shift had even ended, I looked forward to seeing Nancy again.
When I had finished my assignment of wiping up the bathroom, I asked Nancy where I should put the dirty paper towels, as we had already emptied the trash bin.
“Oh, that can be ‘new garbage,'” said Nancy.
New garbage. How liberating!
I tossed the paper towels without looking back and followed my wise new friend past the old conveyor belt and upstairs to lock up the store.
One Saturday, Nancy arrived for her shift with her hair cut to a chin-length bob which was, somehow, just as perfectly suited to her and as lovely as when it had been nearly three feet longer. I thought how brave and bold she must have been, and how I would have probably felt too vulnerable to part with even a few inches of my own forgettable hair.
After maybe a year, I stopped working at the store. Nancy and I lost touch over the years. I am not sure why, except for the fact that our routines no longer brought us together on Saturday evenings. She may never know the impact that her words, which she likely did not remember past the moment, had on me. They have served as a metaphor for my emotional release, helping me to see that it’s okay, really, to leave the new garbage there. I shouldn’t have to worry about every little thing. It’s okay to have some new garbage, a little bit of the mess still to remain for the next time. It’s okay to leave a bit of our burdens, a bit of what has brought us here. We have given the best of ourselves: the best for that space of time.
We had traveled the long stretch of highway to my daughter’s school so many times before. The icy aftermath of the winter storm, though, brought ethereal beauty that I hadn’t expected on our late afternoon drive. This time, things seemed softer between us, and I knew there was a whole lot that we were both learning to leave behind.
We reached our destination just as darkness beckoned. It had been a good holiday visit. She hugged me hard; it wasn’t just an obligation as it had often seemed before.
It has taken a long time to begin to feel the strength of trust. The eight-years-ago me may have tried to understand, to mend, or to empty the new garbage.
While I drove through a daze with my music at a volume suited only for driving alone, fog lowered all around. Soon I could not see more than a short distance ahead. I checked the lights. My hands gripped the wheel. The music no longer made sense. The familiar fear made my heart pound.
Just as I began to wonder if my time had come, a semi passed into the lane ahead of me. Surely, it had been sent by the Heavenly Father. For nearly an hour, that truck guided me through the wintry thickness, safely home.
It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.
The storm, though breathtakingly beautiful, was frightening and unpredictable. The ice still holds fast to the trees, adding sparkle to an otherwise bleak season. In the aftermath of the lingering frost lies damage and destruction, new garbage, and hope…mostly hope.
And to Nancy… Thank you for what you gave me all those years ago.