One of my favorite words. I love everything about it. It isn’t a word that’s said much. It’s not one of those words that finds its way into every day conversations. There’s nothing casual about it. It stands alone, really. Exclusive and unique. Just think of the last time you ever heard it…or even read the word — let’s say — in the past few weeks. How about the last time you’ve ever said it?
It’s been awhile (if ever), hasn’t it?
I am in love with the rhythmic way it ticks off the tongue.
It has a sweet, childlike essence to it. A rhyme in itself. There’s nothing about the word that can be thought of as negative.
Webster’s defines it like this: “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for; also : an instance of this.”
(and oh! beautiful phenomenon. Cousin of serendipity, perhaps?)
There are resources that define serendipity as happenstance, accident, making a discovery, and even pleasant surprise. Yet none of these define the word as I know it. To me there’s nothing about serendipity that is an accident.
I’ll bet there are several of you that don’t even believe in serendipity. Sometimes things happen and we either overlook them or shake our heads and think…”imagine that!” without giving it further thought.
Lots of times we simply write serendipity off as coincidence. Nothing special.
I used to think that way, too.
But serendipity happens to me quite a bit. Sometimes I think it follows me around. Waits to surprise and delight me. I believe this because I expect it. I expect serendipity to show up in my life.
In fact, I watch and wait for it. Maybe that’s why it happens to me so much.
More than that, much, much more than that. I need it.
It’s magical to me.
And hey, I know that the word magic conjures up all kinds of negativity in the minds of some. Through the years if you’ve sat in church pews for long, you might just think of the word magical as demonic. From the pits of hell.
But friend, it’s all simply semantic.
To those of you who would rather not think of the word magic, I’ve got something even better for you. Three better somethings, actually.
Now…who could ever argue with that? (I’m sure a few will…I have no doubt a few…).
Something happened to me a few days ago. Something so personally profound that even just thinking about it now makes goosebumps rise up tight on the surface of my skin.
I know that what I’m about to tell you might not mean the same to you. In fact, I don’t expect it to. I wouldn’t want it to.
It is supposed to be just for me. That’s what makes serendipity so delicious.
It was my birthday.
I guess that’s something to celebrate except it’s been a cluster of time when a lot of special days have cropped up and I’m still in quite the mourning phase of losing my son.
I can get through some days if I don’t think too hard. If I wake up and get out of bed like it is any old day and do my best not to think about things. If I wake up with even slightly positive thoughts, my day goes far, far better. If not, well, you can imagine…the day is hard and then goes downhill from there. If I wake up thinking about what I’ve lost it’s a torturous uphill climb all day long.
During the predawn birthday hours I woke up like I usually do for a few minutes thinking ahead that the day would be a pretty normal day…good, I thought, I don’t have an appointment or have any where to go. Easy day today. Nothing special, nothing extraordinary. Then I drifted back into sleep.
Soon it was morning. It was then that I remembered. My birthday. It was a jolting thought. Here I go again, another day that should be celebrated as something significant. A day to remember.
How can I tell you how hard it is when it’s Thanksgiving or a special day to celebrate this or that…or especially if it’s a day that spotlights me.
I could so do without that.
I don’t want all eyes on me.
On my own, I could get through it as if it were any other day. I didn’t need sentiments and cards and cake and candles…I didn’t really want those things this year. But I have family. Family that wants to make me feel better…wants to make me feel special.
And briefly, before I got out of bed for the day, I had a one way conversation in my mind.
I miss you, Son. How lovely it would be to spend time with you today. Just a little. Can’t you come back for a few minutes? Just a few?
That would have been the greatest gift.
But I shook all of that off. Climbed out of bed and decided to make the very best I could of the day.
My husband was on his way out the door for work when he told me he would be home at around noon. With a grin he informed me that he and my youngest child had plans for me. They had it all planned. Please don’t ask or try to change things…please go with it. Please.
There’s something I should tell you about me. I can be quite the resistant one. If I don’t feel like doing something I simply won’t. Oh, I used to be all compliant and found myself doing lots of things I’d rather not do.
I used to be such a good little girl.
But as I grow older…I don’t often go along if I don’t feel like it. Especially this year. If I feel down, I let myself feel that way. I don’t allow anyone to try to pull me out of it. I simply know myself enough to know that I need to be alone to lick my wounds. I’m a lone ranger like that.
But something about this day made me want to try to turn things around. I needed to move forward somehow. If only by one tiny, little step. I had to move on in even the slightest way and so somewhere in the recesses of my stubborn heart, I decided to play along.
So I did what I can do at times…put my mind in gear. You may know how to do that, too. That gear of automatic. Just put it in gear and coast.
True to his word, my husband was home before noon and we three packed into the car.
I figured that eating would somehow be in the picture…because after all…what celebration isn’t wrapped around food?
As we drove south toward Atlanta it dawned on me. My youngest asked me recently what my favorite place would be to eat. We were all talking about our favorite foods and he slipped that in the conversation. It was part of the plan.
One of my favorite restaurants is a place called OK Cafe in Atlanta. It’s a neat little place that’s sort of a throwback to diners of old. A greasy spoon kind of place that offers most everything comforting and fried and the atmosphere is sweet. The waitresses still dress in white uniforms with blue aprons…and even wear small caps on their heads.
Are we going to Ok Cafe? I asked.
Oh! These words came out of my mouth as I was thinking them…I didn’t take time to edit:
I hope I don’t cry. We met Michael there once, remember? When he was in Atlanta with a few soldiers for a training seminar. That’s one of the biggest reasons I love it so. I had the opportunity to spend a few precious hours with my son then. Remember?
My husband remembered. Of course, he did.
And Lib…you’ve got to know that almost everything will remind you of Mike. Everything.
Yes. I know.
So I swallowed any pain of remembering and we drove on.
It was a busy day at OK. The parking lot was almost full but we found a spot.
I would like to add a part to the story and tell you about how I fell. I mean hard. Fell in the parking lot on the cement and about broke my wrist. Skinned up my palms and knees real bad. There are details here but just imagine that I was trying to catch a lady who dropped her glasses and I tripped on one of those cement parking stops. Just like that. I fell hard and was stunned and started to cry. But I stopped myself because I thought out loud that I fell like some kind of old lady. Fifty five years old today and fell like a feeble old lady. I’m lucky I didn’t break my wrists.
And it made me laugh then. I was sitting on the pavement laughing at myself.
We all laughed.
I add that last paragraph because I believe that something tried to stop me from what was about to happen. Something in the ether knew I was going to experience one of the most lovely things I could have ever experienced on this fifty-fifth birthday of mine.
Upon entering the restaurant, my husband went to the front desk to give our name and I went into the restroom to wash my hands. I still remember vividly the sting of the soap on my palms.
Reminding me that I’m alive. Yes, Libby, you are surviving.
We didn’t have to wait long…and that’s the funny thing. There were people all lined up to wait and many sitting in the booth like seats in the lobby.
They called our name…party of three.
Follow Todd, the man said. So I lead the three of us and followed a young dark headed boy named Todd with menus in his hands.
As I walked forward and we wound around the tables and the booths, I saw we were headed toward the room I feared most. I mean the room. The area of the restaurant where I sat with my son and his friends those few years back.
Oh! I don’t know if I can. Can I sit that close to the memory?
I know this sounds silly…but you have to know that when my son was in the Army I RARELY saw him. Rarely ever. And it was here that I remember feeling all giddy and happier than I could ever feel knowing I would spend a few precious hours with him. Sit and talk and laugh and break bread.
And let me tell you. There were plenty of empty booths. Plenty of tables for three.
We walked right past them.
As we rounded the corner and I watched Todd in front of me take us right toward the most sacred spot in that restaurant I thought it was a joke.
Because it was a table for at least eight.
It was the EXACT table we were seated all those years ago. THE EXACT TABLE.
I looked over my shoulder toward my husband and shook my head. Tears sprang to his eyes so I knew then that he didn’t plan this. He didn’t request it.
Todd removed all the extra place settings and left three.
Is here OK, ma’am?
I stood for a moment to catch my breath. Am I dreaming?
Yes, Todd. Thank you.
I considered sitting in the very same chair that my son once sat…but I didn’t. I sat directly opposite.
I know it had to look so odd…only three of us sitting at that huge, round table in the middle of the room that should seat at least six to eight people. And those empty tables and booths around us.
How does one feel when something like this happens? I am quite an emotional one…but somehow I went normal. Blank. Calm. Trying to absorb it.
None of us said anything. The three of us just looked at each other with the most disbelieving expressions. There were no words.
We ordered our food and then there was this awkward time when most are supposed to talk about this or that. Use up this time to connect in ways families do.
So we tried.
And all I could see was my son sitting in the chair opposite me. And I mean I COULD SEE HIM. All big and strong. So beautiful. Being a smart ass and winking at me and answering all those hundred questions we had for him. The minutes passing by so quickly.
He ordered fried pickles. Mom! You mean you have never had a fried pickle? You’ve got to try them.
I was handling the memory pretty well just then. I think that I was in some sort of shock…a dream state. I looked over at my husband from time to time. We both shook our heads. I remember saying to him that this kind of thing doesn’t just happen by accident…does it? Does it?
The waitress brought our food. Placed my youngest’s plate in front of him. My husband next. And then mine.
Looking down at my food…I saw them right there piled high on my sandwich and spilling over the sides of it.
And then they came. The tears.
Not like the wailing kind. But I wanted to wail. These were silent tears.
The waitress approached our table and saw those tears and politely backed away.
She was extra kind the rest of the time. So sweet and tender. I appreciated that. She didn’t ask me any questions…just sweetly served.
I didn’t really want that time to end. I didn’t.
But all good things do. Come to an end. Somehow.
After we finished our lunch and I stepped outside, I remember seeing the sun peek through the clouds. Feeling it all warm down over me.
I raised my face up toward it. Took a deep breath and with tears streaming down my face (yes, you will read that often…I will cry a lot).
Said the word right out loud (and yes, of course, with a prayer of thanksgiving to God above…who controls all things. He is this, I know that).
How I love you.
Sweet, sweet Serendipity.