As she was waiting for her clothes to dry, an elderly woman sat silently on the bench and mumbled to herself. At first I thought that she may have a mental illness as she was shabbily dressed and simply sat mumbling. Her soft yet repetitive words seemed to have annoyed everyone and people sitting nearby moved away from her as many do with homeless people. Some had even asked the woman on duty if she could be removed.
I sat on the bench beside her and glanced over, prepared to smile…but she did not look my way. So we sat together waiting for clothes to dry and we said not a word to each other. Yet she continued her “mumbling” that actually seemed to lull me into a quiet and peaceful place.
When her clothes stopped she simply remained seated, in no rush to get them folded before they wrinkled like so many of us do. I started to wonder who she was, what was her “story” and even if the clothes were hers or she simply came inside to sit down.
As my dryer came to a stop, I got up and started folding things and she remained seated. When I was nearly done, she rose from the bench and came towards me. Her eyes were a cloudy blue but seemed to look straight through me…for a moment I felt I must know her, but could not recall her in any way.
I smiled and this woman very graciously handed me a small card. Inside was written, “I am a simple woman and many find me odd. I have not spoken to others since my son died in the war. Thank you for sitting beside me as I prayed for him.” As I read the card, tears welled in my eyes and this fragile woman reached out her hand and placed it on mine. I realized that her “mumblings” were prayers and her lack of contact with even a smile was due to her sense of hopelessness. How sad she must be to live in a world where she was shunned because she seemed “different”.
I returned to the laundry many more times and we sat together as she prayed. One sunny day, I came in and there sat a lovely woman, dressed neatly and appearing somewhat uncomfortable in this setting.
I said hello and she nodded. Then I sat down on “my bench” and waited for my friend to come so we would pray together. But this day, when I sat, she did not come.
After waiting for a bit, I began to whisper the prayers that I had been able to make out from the weeks of being seated beside “my unknown friend”. The woman who I had encountered upon arrival came closer to me and cleared her throat. She asked if she might sit. A bit on edge as I was awaiting my “friend” I said “Of course” and as she sat, she looked at me with the most pure blue eyes I had ever seen.
Within a few moments, she introduced herself as “Alice”. We exchanged friendly greetings and sat in silence for what seemed like hours. Finally, “Alice” asked me if I came here often to do my laundry. Funny question I thought but it was better than talking about the weather! I noted that I usually came and sat “with a friend” but she seemed to not be coming this day. Alice reached out her hand and I could see she was not one to frequent a Laundromat…exquisitely done nails, beautiful rings and maybe a sense of uneasiness.
Alice began in a gentle tone to speak to me about a woman she called “Mother”. She spoke of their “status in the community” and the outreach work that her Mother had prided herself on teaching her children. She remarked that each week, her Mother would come to this place, put coins in the dryers when clothing stopped and needed more time, and sit silently. The family thought she had dementia, but she was not a “problem” and had lost her son in Vietnam never really recovering from his loss. This had been his place to come and do his laundry when he was home from college many years before he went to Vietnam. She continued on and I listened carefully to her story.
It all started to make sense to me…this young woman must be the daughter of “my friend” and this “place” was where her Mother felt close to her son. But her daughter never knew she did not sit “silently” as suspected. She prayed for her lost son and the courage and grace to continue to be of service.
When Alice finished her story, she asked “Did you ever meet my Mother?” Without hesitation, I proudly said that I knew her Mother and that each day we met here we sat on this bench, and prayed for her loved ones. Alice stood and prepared to leave, but before she did, she handed me a fine linen envelope: “I believe this is for you”. Without another word, she gracefully walked away. I sat back on my bench and looked at the envelope, so simple and addressed only to “A dear friend”. Taking in a deep breath, I opened the envelope and took out the linen stationery inside and began to read:
My Dear Companion and Friend, In the beginning when I came to this place, I came in sorrow. I sat and remembered my boy, and prayed. People cast glances my way and acted as if I was somehow a bit crazy. I sat in the same place and talked with my son and prayed that he would know I loved him still and was so proud to be his “mum”. Then one day, you walked in and sat beside me. As time went by, you continued to come and my prayers became your prayers. I wondered how you could understand an old fool like me let alone decipher what I was saying. Somehow, you understood… In this life, I tried to do good. To be someone who others could look up to and feel that my intentions were always to assist, never judge or do harm. I raised my son that way. He was such a good man and my children so thoughtful and kind. If you are reading this now, you must have met my daughter, Alice. She is a grand lady but thinks I am losing my mind. At one point, I also believed that…and then I met you. You asked me for nothing and gave me something that I will carry with me until I leave this earth. You gave me acceptance, respect and treated me with a gentle regard for the person I was. What you may not have realized was that coming here became a time I truly looked forward to. I looked forward to meeting you, dear lady, and never even knew your name. I am going to meet my Son very soon and I wanted to write this while my mind was clear and make sure that Alice would carry out my wishes. Your presence and acceptance of what seemed like oddities meant so much to me. No-one has ever been so kind without expecting something in return. I was always happy to give, but you gave me a gift that is priceless: the gift of acceptance and time spent with an old lady that everyone decided was “sick”. I will forever be in your debt and you will forever be in my heart.
My Precious Friend: I love you and have left something for you and those who may come to this place to remember me by. Bless you always!
Tears fell from my eyes as I realized how my friend would no longer come and sit with me. Just as she had come to look forward to our time together, so had I. I was filled with joy to know that she understood her prayers made perfect sense to me and her presence filled my day with a sense of peace and love.
Sometimes, without any idea, we do something simple and it becomes something wonderful in another’s life. The “something” special she left was a wonderful new bench that had a small plaque on the top. In clear and sincere writing, it said: Heaven on Earth: Friend to Friend.
I was and remain blessed to have followed my heart that very first day we met and believed that I was meant to share my time sitting on a bench and praying in a most unlikely place. Sometimes I still go back and simply sit and say a brief prayer for my friend….I always leave with a smile!
Taken from top 2012 kindness stories at http://www.helpothers.org/