“A Great, Healing Flood,” column for April 16, 2013

 

Monday afternoon, I pulled into a parking lot, short on time with a very long list of things to do before flying out of town for a speaking engagement.

High on the list was getting my nails done. Usually, I do them myself. With my husband’s nail clippers. But occasionally I feel the need for a slightly more professional look — preferably a profession that doesn’t involve cleaning an oven or changing the oil in my car.

So I hurried into the nail salon, hoping I wouldn’t have to wait, and was greeted by a beautiful young Vietnamese woman named Mai.

Mai has done my nails a few times in the past and her smile seemed to say she remembered me. Her English is much better than my Vietnamese. But we communicate with our eyes, as much as with words, plus a lot of pointing and other gestures.

She pointed to a chair. I took a seat and plunked my left hand into a bowl of soapy water while Mai went to work on my right.

A flat-screen TV mounted on a wall was tuned to a talk show. The host was saying something about Kim Kardashian.

I looked around the room. Five employees. Five customers, including me. Three manicures, two pedicures. Ten people, all from different backgrounds, different walks of life.

I wanted to know their stories.

“Square or round?” Mai asked.

“What?” I said. “Oh, square, please, with rounded corners.”

Mai smiled, nodded and went back to filing my nails. The room seemed peaceful and strangely quiet, aside from the burbling of the foot baths and the babbling of the talk show.

Then, everything changed.

The talk show was interrupted for a “special news bulletin,” and suddenly, we all stopped, as if frozen in time, to stare up at the TV, holding our breath, dreading the news, hoping for the best, fearing the worst.

And so it began, a gradual unfolding of a heartbreaking story about two explosions on a crowded street at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

We watched the report for what felt like a very long time, though it might’ve been only minutes. At some point, I realized Mai was looking at me. She was still holding my hand.

“You OK?” she asked softly.

I thought for a moment.

“Yes,” I said. “Are you?”

She nodded.

“The world,” she said, shaking her head. “It’s not a safe place.”

I wondered. Was she thinking of other bombings — explosives planted in the market places of Vietnam that killed and maimed countless innocent people? She was too young to remember them, but surely she’d have heard the stories.

“The world’s never been safe,” I said. “Safety is an illusion.”

Twenty minutes later, when I left the salon, I opted to skip the rest of my list and go home. Things that seemed so urgent an hour ago didn’t seem so important anymore. Besides, I wanted to check on a friend.

I decided to email rather than call. Phone lines in Boston would be jammed. Maybe an email would get through. It did.

Imagine my relief when my friend in Boston wrote back to say she and her loved ones were fine. But two members of her family — including her young granddaughter — had been at the finish line 10 minutes before the first explosion.

I sent her my love, along with my prayers for her city, for the victims of the attack, their families, neighbors and friends.

I don’t know if it helped her, but somehow it helped me.

That is what we do in the face of tragedy. We reach into our souls and tap into a bottomless well of faith and hope and love. Then we pour it out upon all of us, a great healing flood.

Beyond that, we live our lives each day, holding nothing back, as if there were no tomorrow.

The world isn’t safe. It never has been. The only way to make it safe is to refuse to live in fear.

Comments

  1. Candy Lemon says:

    So many times I have intended to write to you to tell you how much I appreciate your column. I live in a small town in rural southern Indiana and subscribe to a Sunday paper from a “larger” city. Each week I look forward to your column. It sometimes makes me cry, but always makes me smile. I, and I’m sure so many others, can identify and appreciate so many of your stories, and you present them so beautifully. I often cut out those which touch me most, and have shared many with friends either because I want to share them or feel they need to read them.
    More than anything, you make me reflect and appreciate my many blessings. I am so happy to have finally taken the time to discover this site where I can reread and print my favorite columns. Thank you for touching my life in such a positive way.

  2. Bobby Endicott says:

    Dear Ms. Randall,
    I always enjoy reading your columns.They never disappoint. Always encouraging.Godspeed, to you..

  3. AlisonH says:

    I gasped and then held my breath all over again reading this.

    My cousin had two of her kids in town, with three little ones under the age of four in tow. They were going to go watch the marathon, since that’s what you do when you’re visiting in Boston on that date, but at the last second turned away, telling themselves the littlest was just too young to handle those crowds. They figured they would have the library all to themselves on such a day, and the JFK library (unlike the others) was open.

    They left for home ten minutes before the fire broke out at JFK, and driving home something was clearly so very wrong that they turned on the TV the moment they walked in the door. The explosions had just happened. So close. So grieving for those who hadn’t just missed it too.

    Thank you to everybody in that shop for holding their breath along with all of us. We are a good people.

  4. Mary Roberts says:

    Sharon, I am so excited! I am going to listen to your lecture this Friday evening in Winston Salem, NC. I love your column and never miss it. My friend, Donna Smith is going with me. If you only knew all the other things I have to do, you would say I can’t believe you are here. You give me such inspiration that I must be there. Looking foward to seeing you Friday!

  5. sioux says:

    Dear Sharon,
    A bit ago I wrote telling you how lonely I feel when your face is not in my Sunday paper. Well last week I was primed to see you in person in NE. The day I wrote to you I also looked to see you were speaking there. I live in Iowa, so sent for tickets (talked a friend into the trip), booked the room, NE being the nearest you would be speaking.
    Then the weather…..you know winter is still hovering in the midwest and that day the winter weather travel advisory on I80 kept me home. Being 70 I have stopped testing myself on the road. My children barely recognize the ‘new’ old me. Road trips have been my joy. When you write about Kentucky, I recall riding with my parents from Evansville to KY and seeing the bedspreads for sale on clothes lines.
    So I missed my chance to be in your presence and listen to your stories. Maybe another time. I will look forward to that chance.

  6. Linda Foster says:

    Always, always love your columns and the way you write from the heart! Thank-you!!!! Love hugs Linda Foster!

    • Patty Wilson says:

      Dear Sharon,
      I am the redhead who so enjoyed those Thursday mornings at Marie Callenders.
      You always seemed THERE just for me…
      I have kept your special words that were about tea bags and hot water.
      Yes, I have had “hot water” moments in my life but gratefully God has
      brought me through them all…and more to come I suspect.

      Thank you for being in my life at just the perfect “hot water” chapter in my life.
      You and the other ladies at “Marie Callenders” brightened my life when at times
      the lights felt dim.

      Love to You,
      Patty Wilson
      Santa Barbara, California

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