On donuts, uncontrollable weeping and the treat of falling only to find open arms everywhere

 

If you take time to snap a photo of your donuts before you eat them, you're not doing it right.

If you take time to snap a photo of your donuts before you eat them, you’re not doing it right.

This is a story about donuts.

Yesterday, I spent much of my morning trying really hard to stop crying. Without success. Because, friends, apparently sometimes we just have feelings. And apparently some of these feelings simply have to happen. You’ll know the requisite-expression variety when no amount of stifling works to vanquish them. So, paying heed, I simply sat down and sobbed.

When you have the kinds of feelings I did yesterday, there’s no sense of up or down; it feels like you’re falling. I didn’t know where or how, or even if I would ever land, and it scared me. I’m a happy person, you know? And I hate to brag, but I have an outstanding bag of tricks for managing feelings and navigating difficult experiences. Still, every magic wand I have was powerless against the raw realness of my day. Terrifying.

Of course the loneliness in these moments feels desolate. Undiluted emotion can be alienating—it requires a rare courage to be able to sit with someone while they’re falling apart (see here for a tale about one such person). You have girlfriends, you have a sister, you have plenty of people strong enough to sit with you, but you still feel painfully alone.

Desperate for a break from the fearsome falling, I called Brian. “I just wanted to tune into your energy for a minute,” I said, weeping. I didn’t ask him to come home. In fact, I told him not to and meant it, but 20 minutes later, he walked in the front door full of lightness and compassion. He quietly held me while I soaked his dress shirt with tears and then fell asleep in the afternoon light of our bedroom. When I woke, my feelings were a different color than before. They’d seen the light and had a witness, and it helped.

But this story is about donuts.

Liz is one of my oldest friends and lives just a few miles away, yet we hadn’t spent time together in way too long. So when we found ourselves sitting at the bar of Fat Rice in Logan Square (shout out to the beef heart salad, y’all!), the drinks and the conversation flowing, I could scarcely remember the terror of my emotional vertigo just a few hours earlier.

liz and em

See? Look how happy Liz makes me.

“I almost cancelled tonight,” I confessed. “I had such a weirdly difficult day and I’m exhausted and I didn’t think I’d be any fun for you to be with.”

“I am so glad you didn’t cancel,” she told me. “I would want to be with you however you were.”

Magic words.

We ate, we drank. And then Liz presented me with a glorious white bag.

“Donuts,” she said. “For you.”

She knew I’d been having a lot of feelings lately. And somewhere in the recesses of her memory, she called up the one thing I know to be true in this world: Donuts = happiness.

I don’t talk about donuts a lot—not nearly as much as I talk about bouncy houses. And I don’t recall ever dropping any hints that “you know, if you ever want to cheer me up, go spend too much money on gourmet donuts and bring them to me.” (In case you want to get in on this Chicago-rific donut party, I usually brake for Do-Rite Donuts, and I now know that Stan’s Donuts, too, has magical healing properties.)

I opened the white bag. In it were three of the most beautiful buttermilky, fried-just-so cake donuts in pistachio, vanilla and blueberry. Not only did Liz remember that I love donuts, but also that they darn well better be cake—not yeast—donuts. And that pistachio-flavored treats are my jam.

I started crying. And squealing unintelligibly. And crying more.

What else could I have done? I had to pay heed. And so I ended my day the way I started it. In tears.

A couple of very courageous people showed me they’re in this with me in simple yet profound ways and, as a result, there are a few more things I know to be true: I am seen. I am known. I am valued.

I suppose it doesn’t take an overture to show someone you see and value them. In my case, a little time, open arms and three donuts had an extraordinary impact. And today it has me thinking: “What can I do to show Brian and Liz—and everyone else I love—that I really see them?”

For now, all I can think to do is pray. So today I’m praying this simple prayer for Brian, Liz and for you:

May you see and feel seen, know and be known, love and be loved.

And, as long as I’m talking to God:

May you receive your own version of epicurean cake donuts when you most need them and pay heed to the fullest expression of your feelings when it happens.

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I’ve been told Jesus loves me.

Note: Below I’ve written about God, Jesus and Mary because that’s what I experienced. That said, I well know the Divine extends far beyond the Christianity of my Bible Belt beginnings, so please feel free to replace my vernacular with words that resonate with you…the Universe, Nature, Mother Earth, Gaia, the Greater Order, Goddess, your guru, Divine Mother, Buddha, Krishna or any deity that resonates with your heart. After all, we’re all one.

Most days, after I drop off the boys at school, I duck into the nearby church sanctuary for five to 10 minutes. Once inside, I pause to gaze at the statue of Mary as I take a seat beneath cathedral ceilings smudged with stained-glass-filtered light.

Sometimes I admire Mary’s likeness. You’ve got it all locked up, Mother of God. How do you do it?

Sometimes I feel awe. Wow, you are pure grace. Amazing.

Sometimes I want to cry. When you were living in the body, did you ever feel the stuff I’m feeling now? You were a woman in the world before you were divine, right? So how did you handle it? What did you do when you struggled?

Sometimes I feel gratitude. OMG, you are really actually here for me, Mary. I can feel it. Thanks for being so expansive.

Sometimes I ask her for help. I wish I could be more like you. Could you help me do that? Work through me. I am so, so lost right now. Please take over because I am just not nailing life at the present.

For reference only, this is me nailing life. It happens sometimes.

For reference only, this is me actually nailing life (with holes in my socks).

After a minute or so of reflecting on Mary, who I experience as an expression of the Divine Mother, I sit up straighter and close my eyes to meditate. Looking toward the center of my forehead, I repeat a silent “hong” on the in breath, and sau (pronounced “saw”) on the out breath. In repetition, this mantra slows the heart rate and paves the way for greater concentration. (Pow! That’s meditation. ‘All there is to it.)

Sometimes I float into bliss for a while. Sometimes my mind races the entire time. Eventually, I end with a prayer of protection and thanks to Heavenly Father, Divine Mother, Christ and all the great ones. And then I walk out the big double doors and into my day.

Today a woman wearing a long, hooded powder blue coat waited for me at the door. I gave her a friendly smile and she followed me out.

“I see you in here praying a lot,” she said, squaring her body in front of me on the steps. She had a low, melodic voice and was tall—a little taller than me. She looked to be halfway between my mom and my grandma’s age. Her face was smooth and soft, and even the skin around her eye area was youthfully taut. She wore no makeup, and her light brown eyes were twinkly. If I had to read her energy, I’d say it was loving, strong, protector-y and practical, in that order.

“I want to let you know about a special chapel I think you’d like,” she said. “It’s not far from here and if you enjoy praying in this sanctuary, I think you’d really enjoy this other chapel.”

She proceeded to tell me about the tiny 24-hour chapel of a huge Catholic church a couple miles away. I’ve seen the church before, and it’s beautiful from the outside. She told me of the chapel’s beauty, of the special feel it has, of how the laity meticulously maintains it, of the beautiful statue of Mary and of how adorers are welcome at all hours of the day.

“Adorers?” I asked. I’ve not heard this term before. Is that like what I did with Mark Wahlberg this summer?

“Yes, adorers,” she said matter of factly. “Of Mary, of Jesus.”

“Oh, ok,” I said, feeling silly. “That’s beautiful. I’m not Catholic, so ‘adorer’ is not a word I’m familiar with.”

“Oh, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to be Catholic. I invite Muslim people there, too. You’ll feel Jesus, and it doesn’t matter, he’s for everyone,” she said, pausing for a few beats and looking deep into my eyes with a gaze so steady and warm I felt myself melting into it.

“Jesus wants to love you,” she said. “That is a grace you are blessed to have. You know.”

Instantaneously, I began to cry.

The last time I experienced mystical insta-tears was after a chat with nun at my guru's hermitage in Encinitas. This photo was snapped moments after.

The last time I experienced mystical insta-tears was after a little chit chat with a Self-Realization Fellowship nun at my guru’s hermitage in Encinitas. This photo was snapped moments after.

Something in her countenance when she said “Jesus wants to love you” reached into my being and ripped down a hard-fought wall, releasing a swell of emotion. She stood solidly before me, gazing at my face with serenity and compassion from Lord knows where. Or how. I swear she glowed. What was this phenomenon? I felt wrapped in love beyond love, unaware of space, people and things around me. Unable to stop the tears from coming, I smiled bashfully and threw my hands in the air as if to apologize for my show of emotion. The corners of her mouth turned up slightly and she nodded her head once like she’d seen this a hundred times. She stood close, simply regarding me.

“Thank you,” I said, smiling and shrugging my shoulders, mystified. “Thanks so much.”

Her mouth turned up further into a sweet smile and she excused herself. I rushed off to the car. Once alone, the tears continued, and in the same moment, they became laced with laughter. Joy in abundance. “What was that?” I heard myself say aloud. “Who was that?”

I don’t know why I was incredulous. This morning before leaving the house, I read that today, Feb. 19, is a good day to ask for guidance from your higher self. So I did. Instead of just asking to receive the guidance, I asked to feel it, to experience it and to have the courage to take action on it. Additionally, as I do every morning, I asked to be a channel for God’s love to all I meet.

I figured I’d receive some sort of mandate from my higher self, like, “Yes, we know you’re having a hard time right now but be spiritual about it and rise above it all, will you? You want superconsciousness? You better straighten up and fly right. Get over all this dumb human stuff already.”

It’s like I was expecting my guidance to come with a healthy serving of shame. But that is just not how God works. I always forget.

When I asked for it this morning, I never suspected I’d receive divine encouragement to let myself be loved. And by Jesus, no less. It’s too simplistic, too nice, too outrageous. But it was unmistakably divine. “Jesus wants to love you,” said the woman in blue. To me, implicit in her words was, “Open your heart and receive the love of all loves. You are worthy. Jesus wants to love you.” Suddenly it was so obvious: I can share God’s love with others only if I allow my own self to revel in that great love first.

I don’t know why this woman chose today of all days to speak to me. I’m sure there’s a good explanation for why she was bundled in a full-length, light blue down coat on the warmest day of the winter, and why she had her hood covering her head. But despite all logic, standing in the morning sun of those church steps, she looked every bit like Mary to me. What’s more, she felt like Mary. As sometimes happens with phenomena, I may see her again and experience her in a completely different way, but what matters to me is that today, on the day I asked for an experience of divine guidance, I was overcome with wonderment on feeling Mary’s love flowing through this very person.

So, my wish for you today is that you open yourself to an experience of divine guidance.  Just ask for it, aloud or in your heart. Then, when you have the experience, I hope that you know it, and that it moves you in some wonderful way. Finally, may you allow yourself to revel in the love of all loves. Just like I was told this morning, Jesus wants to love you.

A lesson in finding the blessing in the muck

High five for the blessing of a messy life. Behind the broken raspberries, there are five healthy fingers.

High five for the blessing of a messy life. Behind the broken raspberries, there are four healthy fingers.

Oh my peas, I have a cold. And I’m tuckered out. Everyone in my house has a cold, so until they’re healthy, mama marches on as usual. I’m coming off a week of temporary solo parenting while the man was at a conference and he came back sick and tired and in need of rest, too. Which means I got no rest last weekend. And this week has been a bear. (are you crying for me yet?)

The work deadlines have been bumpier than most weeks. I’m coughing a lot. My youngest squished these gelatinous Halloween eyeballs into a thousand jiggly crumbs on the living room carpet such that I had to jack the vacuum up and down to catch all the pieces like I was playing Hungry, Hungry Hippos. The dogs nudged the lid off the bathroom trashcan and dispersed its contents all over the floors of my office and bedroom. Brian’s artisanal breakfast sausage habit has reached a crescendo and now everything in my closet smells like his morning feast. Obviously, this is a sampling of the more trivial stuff.

Without going into detail about the bigger issues, everything and everyone coming at me was making withdrawals from my energetic bank account.

I vented a little when my next-door neighbor, Gwen, who we drive to work in the morning on our way to school, asked me how I was doing. I was fully expecting woman-to-woman empathy. Instead, she had a little something to teach me:

“You’ve got to be thankful for the messes because it means you’ve got wonderful little children. Right, boys?” she called in her booming voice, laughing, toward the back seat.

(insert record screech) What? I was looking for some sympathy. I’m here feeling burdened by life, you know…

“You got to thank God for the dishes because He gave you food. You be thankful for the laundry because it means you have clothes. Be thankful for Brian being out of town because it means he’s got a job and takes care of your family,” she said. “He makes a mess? Say, ‘Thank you, God, for giving me a great man who’s home with me.’ You got to say thank you to God for these things.”

Charlie announced my tears as soon as they sprung. “Oh, Mommy. I know you’re crying now,” he sounded amused. “Ok, well it looks like you’re crying for happy. So why are you crying?”

Gwen just smiled out the window. Gwen, the one who spends five days a week working in an assisted-living facility playing games with and caring mostly for mentally ill adults and her nights playing nurse to her husband, a stroke-victim who used to direct traffic in the Loop, serve as the neighborhood watch for our street and listen to jazz on his front porch when he retired. Now he calls to her at all hours of the night and she goes, she helps him and she thanks God for it. She yearns for a break, a vacation, some time for herself but, amid it all, she’s still grateful for what is.

I hesitate to name call, but what an out-of-touch diva I can be!

I face messes and other challenges because I have three affectionate, devoted, protective, hilariously quirky dogs; two brilliant, inventive, boisterous, physically strong little boys; and one luminous, soulful, powerful, inexplicably adoring husband. I have a cold because I’ve been out in the world touching a thousand different experiences and drinking in life as it comes.

Ok, ok. I get it, Gwen. And thank you for helping me see through a different lens. When in the swirl, it is helpful remember the source of it. Chances are, it’s a blessing.

And, just like that, I’m feeling light again.

We’ll call this Emily Noir, overexposed. I was trying to snap a pic of a pretty tree at a stoplight and accidentally took this of myself (innocent iphone camera malfunction). I should’ve deleted it, but it shines a light on where I’ve been, mentally, lately.

It’s been a dark stretch of days. Treading through new territory, questioning myself, feeling pulled, being pulled. Suddenly everything around me has been newly urgent, important, strenuous. I’ve felt inadequate, not enough, not good enough. (Perhaps not coincidentally, many people close to me also have been feeling derivations of this brand of ickiness.) I haven’t felt like myself. I’ve been shrouded in a cloud of something most closely resembling fear and anxiety.

And then I woke up today. The heaviness, the fear, the pit in my stomach, the ominous sense of things hanging over my head, it was lifting. And, by the end of the day, it was gone.

Does this shift mean I’ll be feeling less confused now?

The lightness was a culmination of things. My son woke this morning with emotional responses that made sense, his sensory system miraculously regulated after weeks of not knowing what would flip the switch that sent him spinning into sustained hysteria. Maybe he sensed I was calmer, maybe the conversation I had with him last night while he was sleeping actually got through, maybe he could feel I was present with him and so he didn’t need to hit his brother, chew the straw of his water bottle to oblivion, throw pillows at the dogs, repeatedly knock everything off the counter or erupt in 45-minute screaming fits to get me to connect. No matter why, I just knew, from the moment he came to greet me this morning, that his nervous system was collected and that he was feeling peaceful. My entire being coursed with thankful relief.

From there, the morning eased forth with joyful calm, peace between brothers and a giggling game of “bad guy and war plane” in which each of us were fatally wounded. When the babysitter arrived, I went to my office without protest from the kids, and when she took them to school for the first time this year—a dreaded event for both boys—they bounded out the door gleefully, consigning the bribery-laced “just in case” lollipops I’d left for her to the front hall table.

Let’s be honest, even the most peaceful morning involves a little pretend violence. In fact, the more I get make-believe defeated or destroyed, the better the day overall.

While working, I checked off my to-do list, I was engaged in the work, I said no to something that felt like too much and a large last-minute assignment fell through, releasing me to wrap up what I was doing and alight to my beloved friend’s kitchen table to treat myself to her perfectly frothed cappuccino, nourishing conversation and catalog browsing before picking the boys up from school.

Unlike any day in weeks past, the hours progressed without a hiccup. And then, rushing through the grocery store to make it to preschool pick up, time stopped in the checkout line. The checker eyed my diapers and softly asked, “How old is your baby?”

“I have a two-year-old and a four-year-old,” I answered.

“Oh! Aren’t they are just the sweetest little things,” she cooed, stating a fact rather than asking a question.

My sweet skeleton ninja at a Halloween festival last weekend.

“They’re sweet, but they are a freaking handful,” I’m pretty sure I sounded a little downtrodden. She straightened. I wasn’t sure if she was going to agree with me or chide me for not being gracious.

“You can do it,” she looked at me square in the eyes. “You’re able. God gave you those babies because you’re made to raise them. You can do it, honey.”

Her words somehow seared right into me. “Thank you,” I blurted. “I guess you’re right.”

My kid wants me to paint his face like a Day of the Dead sugar skull at the children’s museum? I guess I am made to be his mama.

“It’s true. God gave you those two boys so you can be their mother. You know, God’s got a tough job; God’s job is the biggest of all, but a mother? A mother has the second biggest job, second to God,” she nodded. “And you are fit to raise those babies. God is seeing to that. You can do it.”

I was gobsmacked. I’m accustomed to having bizarrely intimate conversations with strangers, and I’m almost cavalier about discussing God with anyone who will indulge me, but this woman was diving into my psyche and filling it right up with love. My cheeks grew hot and I stuttered in disbelief. “Uh, yeah, I mean, I think you’re right. Thank you. God is, yeah. Wow, um, that’s really…”

I grabbed my diapers in a teary-eyed haze. “Thank you,” I said, putting my hands over my heart and turning to walk away.

“God and the host of Heaven are supporting you,” she called after me definitively, nodding her head and smiling like some love-realized master, or like the Mother Berthe to my baby in  Mary Cassatt’s painting. “You take care, sweetie.”

I marveled at her word choice, “the host of heaven,” and beamed goofily at no one in particular while floating through the parking lot. Every one of us is supported by the host of heaven. How did I forget that?

Once in the car, I noticed it was 2:22 p.m. I’ve never been big into angels, but as I become more aware of the angelic realm, I want to learn more about it. (And, certifiably, I’m becoming one of those crazy people who collects angel statues, feathers and the like.)

Yes, the boys and I have a feather collection. It’s much bigger now than it is in this photo. And we love it.

Doreen Virtue is an expert in angel communication and number sequences. According to her article on spiritlibrary.com, the number two in a sequence means the following:

“Our newly planted ideas are beginning to grow into reality. Keep watering and nurturing them, and soon they will push through the soil so you can see evidence of your manifestation. In other words, don’t quit five minutes before the miracle. Your manifestation is soon going to be evident to you, so keep up the good work! Keep holding positive thoughts, keep affirming, and continue visualizing.”

It’s convenient for me to believe my angels were trying to pass me a note today, I recognize, yet why not? Frankly, everyone should try believing it. It feels incredible to embrace the idea that something divine would (and does) reach out to say, “Keep on going. Have faith. You’re fit for the life work you hold so dear.”

It’d been a while since I received such a blatant reminder of the way God can shine through people, giving us just what we need when we need it. I’m thankful I ran into this angel in human form. She shifted something deep within me.

Ten minutes later, Kip’s teacher opened the door for the parents to enter the classroom at pick up and he caught my eye from across the room, his own eyes melting into upside-down half moons, his rounded cheeks flushing and his mouth releasing a loud chuckle as his legs carried him as fast as they could into my arms for one long, luscious hug. He held tightly to me for a long time, stretching his arms around me, softly patting my shoulders and twisting tendrils of my hair in his fingers, his face tucked into my chest except to pull away and smile at me intermittently. His mommy was back. And, when we picked up Charlie, all three of us holding hands and racing the wind en route to the car, it was clear we were in a different, better, more loving place, a place in which we were aware of God and the host of heaven supporting us.

Thankfully, as of today, we’re back to feeling ever surrounded by love, joy, God and angels. And dogs. (Of course, just like the dogs, the divine has been there all along.)

Dear friend, you kinda, like, shifted my worldview today

I think we learn a lot from our friends. Sometimes it’s awkward to tell them so face-to-face. So I’ve written my friend a simple letter (which makes me admittedly more awkward, but she likes me anyway):

Dear Kellie,

I learned something awesome from you today.

After the new neighbor approached us and we found out he’s an improv actor/comedy writer, you and I responded at the same time. Me, to tell him I have a friend who’s successfully pursuing the same line of work in LA; you to ask him where he does improv.

Guess to which of us he responded?

In a three-minute exchange, I learned a lot more than where our new neighbor does improv. Your uncontrived social grace made me realize the following:

a.)   I often attempt to connect with people by trying to prove I already understand them. And…

b.)   You connect with people by trying to find out more about them.

You personally know Abed from “Community.” He went to your high school. You did not mention this. In your shoes, I probably would’ve. You showed me another way.

Thanks for teaching me how to connect more sincerely with people. And thanks for being my friend even though, the first time we met, I probably acted like I already knew all about you.

Love,

Emily

Emotional superheroine saves the day, rescues me from my crazy

I barely even know her. She usually keeps to herself, breezing in at drop off and pickup, scooping her cutie up in snuggles and whisking her out before I can catch her eye for more than a quick smile. That’s how a working mom of three has to do it, I surmise. Pleasant efficiency.

I, on the other hand, am one of the chattier moms at preschool. But yesterday I sat silently on the hallway bench fighting back tears as I watched Charlie fasten and unfasten the Velcro straps on his shoe. As with many things, he is particular about how the Velcro is arranged and, when I reached over to help him with the process, he gritted his teeth and growled. For minutes after, he sat, looking on, with one stocking foot and one shoe on. Diddle diddle dumpling.

He’d bucked and writhed with face contorted as I pulled him off the crying neighbor baby’s scooter earlier that morning, and then shrieked at me with wild eyes for suggesting he wear a different outfit than the day before. All day, he had not ceased whining, crying, demanding snacks—not THOSE snacks but a different snack. A good one. Like a treat snack. Now, Mommy! Please get me a snack right NOW!”—and by 11 a.m., I was done. There’s only so much patience in my well.

I almost kept him home from school. As he stood on his bed crying about something that had to do with his coat, Kip said, “Tired… Nap?” and I had to dig deep to figure out how to make it out the door for the 20-minute drive to school. “Come downstairs, guys. Let’s get boots and coats on.” They didn’t follow me. “Now! Come downstairs. We’re gonna be late.” They came downstairs. “Put on your boots, guys. Please?” I whined. “Put on your fucking boots!” I’m sure of a few things: vessels were popping in my face, my fists were clenched, a conscientious passer by would’ve called the cops on me and my eyes were looking scary.

“No, Mommy! Stop!” Kip admonished as my emotions ratcheted up. Charlie erupted.

“I just want you to be Nice Mommy,” he sobbed. “Please, Mommy. Please! Be Nice Mommy!”

I started crying. “Oh, buddies, I’m so sorry. That’s no way to speak to you. Mommy is just so frustrated right now.” Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Jesus, help me. God, do your thing. Guru, come to me. Om guru, om guru, om guru, om…

I knelt and hugged the boys together, fixed Charlie’s coat, got their boots and apologized. “Now let’s go, ok? And we need to hurry a little bit.” I hoped Kip wouldn’t fall asleep on the drive. Gripping the steering wheel, I noticed I hadn’t really looked Charlie in the eyes all morning—fuck, what the hell kind of shitty mom doesn’t make eye contact with her kids?—and I slumped further down.

Bring yourself back, Emily. Find your loving place. You can do it. Love. Access it. Come on. Love. You can do it.

And then I noticed a healthy muffin top rolling over my pants. Hadn’t made it to the gym since Monday because I just couldn’t get out the door in time with the boys. There began my fast crumble. When I feel “fat,” it’s as though my value in the world plummets just because my body isn’t bikini-perfect. And, of course, when I’m mean to myself and mad at myself, I become outwardly cruel as well. I lose the ability to be the channel of love and light my kids need me to be, the world needs me (everyone) to be.

When my mind is honed in on the disappointment that my vessel for this material world is not a perfect hourglass—I’m two mid-section inches short of glory—my attunement is blocked. It’s like my ego puts up a massive ROAD CLOSED sign so that love cannot pass through, to or from me.

So, we get to school. Charlie’s teacher asks how I am today and I can barely answer her. She squeezes my arm. I’m spinning deeper into a negatively charged vacuum I can actually feel in my amped-up nervous system. Then I feel a hand on my shoulder. It’s the mom I barely know, the always well-dressed, pleasantly efficient working mom of three. She turns around to face me in the hand-washing line and her eyes are steady. “What’s up? Are you doing ok?”

I’m shocked. “Oh, it’s just been a really hard couple days,” I say. She nods and turns around to help her daughter. My eyes flood and a couple drips sneak down my cheek. I hang up Charlie’s coat and backpack, holding Kip in my arms, and I watch Charlie skip to the playdough table. He looks really happy. I hear him laughing and his little buddy saying, “Oh, Charlie Q…” in a fit of giggles. He’s amazing. How could I have missed that all day long?

The mom appears out of nowhere, and she’s right in my face. “I’m sorry you’re having such a hard day,” she says. “We all have those days.”

“Yeah, I know,” I agree, looking up to stop the tears. Truth is, though, she hasn’t had MY day. “Just to give you an idea, Charlie’s probably going to ask to put on his ‘fucking boots’ when it’s time to leave today.”

She laughs. “My girls have heard much worse. They all have,” she says with a smirk. And then proceeds to tell me about her own swearing fit on the one evening she was actually able to be home with her kids, and not at work, all week. Unlike so many “I’ve been there” stories, this one was relatable. And specific. And on a parallel plane of losing-your-shit-ness, a plane on which I was feeling shamefully alone. I know better. Lots better. What’s wrong with me? “In those moments I feel like the worst mom. I think, ‘You poor sweet kids, I’m not giving you what you need at all.’ ”

She pauses. “It’s hard. There are times I’m like, ‘What have I done to my life?’ ”

I laugh. “It’s almost unrecognizable sometimes, isn’t it?”

“Totally.”

“Totally.” And, boom, I feel better. I’m no longer alone in my horrid lapse of motherly virtue. What’s more, I’m completely inspired by this woman’s rush to my rescue. Raw emotion in friends, let alone acquaintances, can be unsettling. People aren’t very comfortable with a crying person. Awkward shoulder pats, patchy eye contact and declarations that “It’s ok; don’t cry,” accompany a general desire to get the whole interaction over with. But here was this superhero darting right into the flames of my fear, pain, self-loathing and emotional instability, throwing me over her shoulder and whisking me off to safety.

We’re often so afraid to get into peoples’ business, yet what we all crave is that kind of deep human connection on the heart and soul level. Looking back on my humorously rich history of public displays of emotion, I don’t think anyone has shown such courage in rescuing me from my ledge-of-the-moment. I wish I could salute this woman, award her some sort of Medal of Honor for emotional health and bravery. However, what I will do is pull a page from her playbook the next time I see someone suffering, and reach out to them with confidence and the same open, strong gaze she shared with me. That was some real beauty.

Did she just call me “baby”?

The barista just called me “Baby.” And my reaction surprised me. Ten years ago, I openly professed my distaste for such casual terms of endearment from strangers. Yet in this moment, I wanted to curl up in her lap. And then, noticing I was actually lulled rather than repelled by her word choice, I welled up with gratitude.

She poured me a coffee, steamed me a little milk, handed me the cup and, just like honey, said, “Here you go, Baby.” If I had any rigidness in my body left over from my yogurt-splattered, tension-laced morning, it’s gone now. With one word, the super-tired caretaker mantle I was wearing in my admittedly martyr-like way was flipped on its head and I became the cared-for. In the simplest and quickest of quotidian exchanges, this woman chose to show sweetness over the perfunctory. To think I almost didn’t go for a coffee this morning. I almost sat in the lobby of my son’s occupational therapy clinic, waiting for him to finish playing with Miss Melissa while watching other kids and parents come and go. Instead, I got a thing, which I call love, from yet another unlikely source:  the tough-looking chick at Starbucks.

What’s funny is that in my younger, cockier, judgier days, I hated it when people I barely knew called me “babe,” “honey” or “sweetie.” What was my deal? So cynical, so much to prove. I was caught up in having to be an unstoppable, independent grown-up that I completely missed out on all the delicious softness coming my way. What a waste of good love in the world, my being too self-protectively closed off to accept it. Well, I’m drinking in that good stuff heretofore, small as it may be. Because although as a younger woman I bought into the message that we need to be tough and strong and cynical to excel in the harsh world, I’m seeing things differently now. Everything we need for our nourishment and exaltation is out there, looming invisibly about us, every day, if we just open our hearts to receive it. And, baby, it feels amazing.