My husband was off on a big hike earlier on Christmas Eve, and I wanted to celebrate some holiday cheer so I thought: “I’ll walk downtown (it’s about 5 miles from my house), and check out Saturday Market.”
Right after making that decision, I posted on Facebook to see if anyone wanted to join me at the market around 2pm, and my friend Jennifer responded that she was planning on being there about that time too.
Off I went, with a cozy warm Santa hat (a Christmas gift from another year before) on my head to mark the festive occasion.
I was getting close to the destination when Jennifer texted she was already there, so I decided to catch the light rail train the rest of the way to make it on time.
Boy am I ever glad I did.
What happened next was the best Christmas gift ever.
As soon as I boarded, I noticed a woman sitting kitty-corner across from me, and we smiled at each other. She had a bit of an odd look about her, and I guessed silently that perhaps she was a cancer patient due to her hair looking sort of like a wig.
“I like your hat,” she ventured.
“Thanks,” I said, and smiled.
I think something in my smile must have sparked her, and she started chatting away.
True confessions: I was a little leery at first because anytime a complete stranger starts talking a lot on public transportation, it’s usually cause to change seats.
But she poured out her life story of growing up in rural Idaho, outside of Boise, in a house with no electricity or running water, let alone a rest room. She learned to fish and hunt for subsistence reasons. Eventually, she married a man from Colton, Oregon who later became a sniper in the Navy Seals.
She worked her way up in the hotel industry, most recently working at the DoubleTree Lloyd Center as a chef/cook before she had to retire.
She paused in her story, then quietly said that she had endured 11 different rounds of cancer. The last time it happened, the priests had been called and told her husband that she wasn’t going to make it. But she did.
“I’m virtually indestructible,” she smiled and laughed.
“But not this time. I have terminal lung cancer.”
Then she proceeded to tell me the rest of her story.
Her family has been plagued by a genetic trait for blindness, and her youngest brother was born blind.
“Because I only have 6 months or less to live,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes, “I am going to donate my eyes to him so my little brother will see for the first time in his life.”
By this time, we are both crying. I quietly nodded and said to her, “Thank you.” She smiled.
My stop was next, and just before the train lurched to a stop, I asked if I could give her a hug. She said, “Of course, but be careful because I have a broken collar bone.”
As I hugged this tiny flame of humanity and wished her a Merry Christmas, I was still amazed at this woman’s gift to her brother. And as I said good bye as I got off the train, I heard her say “Merry Christmas… and I wish I had gotten to know more about you.”
Merry Christmas, everyone.
And remember, sometimes the best gifts are ones you don’t expect like the one she gave me… and are reasons to help you make your heart even bigger.