Hi, my name is Beth, and I cry in nail salons. Is there a support group for that?
It all started a couple of months ago when I took a new book to my Christmas mani-pedi. Going Long: Legends, Oddballs & Adventures is a compilation of inspirational short stories by runners about runners. Sounds safe, right? Wrong. The first story, 16 Minutes From Home, is an unbelievably touching tale about the life of astronaut Willie McCool. While many people know about the tragic end of the Columbia space mission in 2003, I would venture to guess that very few people know much about the lives lost that day. I sure didn’t.
I was already close to tears reading about the profound connection Willie had with Lani, his best friend of 24 years and wife of 17 1/2 years. Then, I read her words:
Life hasn’t been easy, but it has been…life. It has been good. That was something Willie and Lani always agreed on. That it was good. That it should be good. “There are so many gifts,” she says. The poems he wrote, the letters he sent. The memories she has of him. The future.
“I miss him horribly,” she says. “It was a loss, but I realized it was okay, because we lived a good life. I have no regrets. I don’t think I ever said he died too young…
She knows that some other naval wives view her with something other than love. She knows that she doesn’t quite fit the image of a military spouse. She says that Willie adored that about her. Some of his friends say the same thing. She shows me a poem that he read to her from space; the last time she heard his voice.
“He said, ‘Hold on, I’ve got something here.’ And then he read this: ‘I’ve witnessed the beauty of Earth from space, far, far above. What a treasure it is to behold. But I would trade this view for your embrace, my sweet love, for only you enrapture my soul.’
“That was the last two minutes I heard him. So yeah,” she says, “I feel lucky.”
Look closer at the life.
I lost it. And I’m not talking about a few sniffles. I mean seriously broke down to the point of freaking people out. I tried to explain that they were happy ‘touched’ tears, but I didn’t have the words. Instead, I put the book down, said a little prayer for all the blessings in my life, and kept my eyes closed until it was time to go. (You can read the whole story here. I highly recommend it … as long as you have tissues nearby!)
Then, yesterday, my office was closed, so I decided to leave work early and treat myself to a mani-pedi. It was my first since Christmas. I sat down next to a woman who also was have her first mani-pedi since Christmas because her foot had been in a boot after having surgery on her ankle.
Sitting across from us was her adorable 4-year old girl. She squirmed and giggled while they rubbed her ticklish feet — just like I always do. She asked me to sit next to her so that she could show me her books. She started eating an orange, and her eyes light up every time she took a bite as her mouth filled with the sweet, sticky juice. Rather than let it run all over her face, she carefully peeled off the edge of her paper towel and gently patted the corners of her dimple-filled cheeks. In that moment, my biological clock officially won.
I chatted with her mother about her experience giving birth in England, life as the mother of two young girls, and how different they are from each other. As I was preparing to leave, she turned to me and said, “Before you go, I need to ask you something. It’s going to sound strange, but you’ll understand in a minute. How old are you, 27 or 28?” “31,” I replied. She smiled, “I figured you were about that age. My sister was the runner who was killed on Katy Trail last year. She was 28. You remind me so much of her.”
My heart literally stopped. I sank back into my chair. And my eyes welled up.
Lauren Huddleston died last October after being struck by a cyclist on Katy Trail. Her death was a tragic accident that rocked both the running and the cycling community. Being an enthusiast of both sports, I was stunned to know that either of them could have been me. I also was disappointed to watch as runners and cyclists played the blame game and became even more divided, rather than using the opportunity to come together and educate people on how to share the road. The media only added fuel to the fire. Her family, on the other hand, handled the tragedy with grace and composure, always staying above the fray, never assessing blame, and trying to re-focus the discussion on Lauren’s legacy.
All I could say in response was, “I’m so sorry for your loss. I must say, though, that your family handled the situation amazingly well.” Looking back, it sounds kind of silly, but that’s what came out in the moment.
We continued talking for another 20 minutes as she told me about the struggles her family has faced since the accident, the painstaking decision to end life support, and how she wishes everyone would stop fighting about who was to blame and focus instead on the lives Lauren saved by being organ donor. To this day, she wears a different color bracelet in honor of each life that goes on because of her sister’s death.
I suddenly realized I was late for my next appointment, so I quickly got up again, gave her a hug, and rushed out the door. When I got in my car, it occurred to me that I didn’t even get her name. Shame on me.
We may never meet again, but the conversation touched my soul in ways that I cannot articulate and probably don’t even know yet.
A few things that are certain :: I can’t wait to have a tiny human of my own someday. I am updating my organ donor card. I am destined to cry at my nail salon.