Her back was turned to me. I couldn’t see her face, didn’t recognize her voice. She spoke haltingly, in a library voice, next to a sign warning that conversations at the window could not be guaranteed to be private.
I could hear only enough to know that she was weeping.
The receptionist placed a box of tissues on the counter. I could hear her. She offered nothing in the way of solace to the crying woman, other than the tissues. She kept the conversation strictly business, setting up the next appointment date.
My own daughter was with the OB/GYN. Had this weeping woman just miscarried? Was her fertility treatment a failure? Did she lack the funds to pay the bill? Had her partner abandoned her in the early stages of a pregnancy? Was she scheduling an abortion?
All sorts of scenarios played out in my head as I attempted to stay focused on the novel I’d brought along. Trying to read was useless, however, as the gal at the counter seemed unable to stop the flow of tears.
I debated getting up and placing my hand on her back. Not saying anything. Just standing with her in that moment. Nobody should have to cry in public alone. But that sign warned me off. I didn’t want the receptionist to think I was intentionally eavesdropping.
My pregnant daughter startled me. “Finished,” she announced. “All is well.”
“That girl at the window is crying,” I said. My daughter picked up her purse and car keys. I followed her out to the parking lot. The girl at the window exited at the same moment.
“Wait here,” I instructed my daughter. “I just want to give her a hug.”
I approached the young gal as she was loading something into the backseat of her rig. Her blonde hair shrouded her tear-streaked face as she closed the passenger door.
“Hey,” I said. “I don’t know what happened in there. I don’t need to know what happened. But can I give you a hug?”
“Yes,” she said nodding. She opened her arms and let me hug her tightly.
“Nobody should cry alone,” I said.
“Thank you,” she said, hugging me back. “I’m just so emotional. I don’t know why even.”
I didn’t ask if she had lost a child or if she was pregnant or if she just wanted to be pregnant. I simply hugged her then said, “Being a woman in this day and age is enough to drive any woman to tears.”
But I walked off thinking of the granddaughter whose arrival we are all prayerfully awaiting. How I had hoped that she would inherit a better world than the one I was born into, a better world than the one her mama was born into. The reality otherwise is enough to drive me to tears, especially as I witness the desecration of all that is sacred in this country.
We must find ways to cling to each other, the way young Angie Valeria clung to her daddy when raging waters rose above them both. Perhaps we, too, will die trying to get to the other side, but we mustn’t stop trying. We mustn’t allow despair to sweep us off our feet. We must always believe that we can make a better life for one another. We must embrace the stranger and stand alongside them.
Because to deny another’s pain is to contribute to it.
Karen Spears Zacharias is a Gold-Star daughter and author of After the Flag has been Folded (William Morrow).