Whenever someone speaks to me, and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, I pause. It has been this way since I was a teenager. No matter the context-whether I’m in my office or riding the bus-this is a sign that I never ignore. I pay attention. I listen more carefully. That feeling brings me closer to that person and their energy. I’m still not sure what it is, but it’s one sign that pulls me in.
Last week, I walked through the square in Freeport, Bahamas, where you will find everything from a Domino’s Pizza to a shop selling bags, jewelry and t-shirts. The tourist trade stores are small, about the size of a walk-in closet. Their stuff is packed onto the walls, hanging into the booth and leaving just enough room for two people to stand.
Beverly sat on small chair in the middle of a five by five shop selling her trinkets. I saw some clothing, some jewelry, but the my eyes were immediately drawn to her. In the sweltering September heat, at the end of a row of closeted chaos, Beverly said, “Good Morning, sir.”
The hairs on my neck stood and told me to pay attention. And I stopped.
Three hundred pounds if she was an ounce, the woman sitting took up the whole store. We exchanged pleasantries about the day, the weather, her shop and where I was from. Then I asked her name.
The words, “Beverly” brought the hairs on my neck to attention.
She told me she was a native Bahamian and I asked her how she was doing, referring to the heat that blanketed the air. Said she felt “so blessed today.” I asked her about her life. She said she had two children but that “one passed.” I didn’t ask how or when but I felt my expression drop. She noticed, and with a knowing smile said, “I could be sad or upset, but I am so grateful-so very, very grateful-for everything I have in my life today. Yes, today is a beautiful day, sir. An absolutely beautiful day.”
As she fanned herself in the heat of the morning, we talked about the music of the islands. I asked her if she knew where I could get a CD of Bahamian steel drum music. She paused as her eyes widened, and said, “You know, I think I have a friend that could help you out. Come back here this week and I’ll let you know where you can get it.”
I thanked her and walked on. Something told me to talk to her as I left, to say some parting words. I was absolutely filled with an indescribable feeling of goodness. I turned back to her, and only words that came to my mind fell directly into my tongue. I said, “You have the spirit of an angel. I am so blessed to have met you.” I knew it the second I felt her presence.
She just smiled and nodded. She quietly thanked me and said she’d let me know about the CD when I returned.
I meant what I said. I went back to the square two days later to just sit in her presence and listen. I just wanted to be around her again, to inhale the presence of her love. I’d nearly forgotten about the CD.
But when I arrived, her shop was boarded and locked. I asked my wife if I was standing at the right place, at Beverly’s store, and she assured me I was.
I asked one of the other store keepers if they knew where she was. They said they didn’t, but said that she probably took the day off. “She’s not feeling well, you know,” the storekeeper advised. “Beverly has cancer.” I went back twice before I went home, but she wasn’t there.
I won’t belabor the details of the rest of the trip. But I will tell you this: I met an angel, an undeniable spirit from the heavens, who lives on the edge of poverty. In unreasonable humidity and heat, Beverly waits for customers that may never come. With loss. With heat. With uncertainty. And with cancer.
And within her spirit is a lightness of joy that turned me full circle and wrapped my attention in peace.
I may never see her again. I will write to let her know what her visit meant to me.
But, in her spirit, I plan on being like Beverly today. I am so grateful for having crossed her path. I will speak her life, and in her honor, with every breath I take today, repeat her words over and over in my heart:
“I am so grateful for everything I have in my life today. Yes, today is a beautiful day, sir. An absolutely beautiful day.”
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