I had a profound experience the other night. I didn't recognize it as such until after it was over, but the emotions associated with it refuse to leave me so I thought I would write about it and maybe it would rest.
I cook for a family from Oklahoma every year for Thanksgiving on a beautiful ranch in the Hill Country. They stay for almost a week and come Wednesday we have almost 40 people in attendance, with the number rising to 50+ on Thanksgiving day. It is a busy week with long hours and I have hired the same staff the last 5 years. We have come to work with a rhythm that recognizes each others strong points and weaknesses. And, despite all the work, it is fun.
My husband Scott is head dishwasher and go to guy and is always good for a hug around the kitchen . My neighbor Julie (we call her Jules) does the bulk of the prep work, chopping endless pounds of veggies, setting tables, essentially being the one to keep the kitchen orderly and together. I delegate, delegate, delegate and do the "fun stuff" (in my opinion) like making cheesecakes and pies, dinner rolls and soups, lasagna and salads.
This year the week went by extraordinarily fast and Saturday night found us all in the kitchen finishing up the cleaning of our last night at the ranch. The next day would be breakfast and lunch and then farewells. I was putting away leftovers and Scott had walked away from the sink to do something when Jules noticed that the dishwater looked like it needed to be refreshed. She pulled the drain on the sink and reached into the water to gather up the last few utensils left in the water and grasped one of our new knives. An hour before this we had had a conversation about never putting knives in dishwater for this very reason! The knife cut her thumb where it meets her hand and blood began spurting out of the sink. She gasped, grabbed her cut hand with her other hand and walked to the counter. I looked up and she said, "I think I cut myself..." and as I rushed around the island I asked how bad and she began sinking to the floor with blood running down her arm. She was so pale and on the verge of passing out. The kitchen swung into action with Scott grabbing kitchen towels, wrapping her hand and applying pressure. After getting a quick look at the wound, I ran to the lodge to inform the ranch manager about the accident and let him know I was heading to the hospital. He rushed back to the kitchen with me and there sat Jules still on the floor, still really pale, with Scott and Diana (the ranch housekeeper) tending to her. We quickly decided logistics and I went to fetch Julie's car while the others got her to her feet and out the door. The ride to the hospital was about 20 minutes and we kept up a lively (if a bit tense) conversation on the way there. I was worried Jules would pass out or a deer would run out in front of us and I would wreck her car. I drove just over 80 mph most of the way. We got to the hospital and after almost 3 hours we were in a room with the doctor beginning the preliminary stages of stitching her up. Scott had shown up while we were in the waiting room and stayed while we went to see the doctor. Jules was scared and told me so numerous times during our wait. I had her hold my hand and told her to squeeze when it hurt. She couldn't look at the work being done and in an effort to keep her calm, I told her to just look at me. So for the 10-15 minutes it took to stitch her up we stared into each others eyes. When it hurt, she would squinch up her face, but apply no pressure to my hand. We spoke a little, made some weak jokes, but mostly just looked at each other. And in those few minutes I saw Julie...I mean really SAW her. I saw her gentle nature, her wide open heart, her willingness to do whatever is asked of her. I saw Julie, who would never hurt anything, even to the point of not squeezing my hand while in pain because she was afraid it would cause ME pain. This is a woman I have known for half a decade and have always thought well of, but I never took the time or maybe never felt the inclination to really get to know her. I had an idea about who she was and stopped at that.
Well, her thumb got stitched up and at 1 a.m. we were in line at the drive-up drug store getting her prescriptions and we were both exhausted. I drove her home and Scott drove me home from there. We fell into bed at 2:00 exhausted, knowing we had to get up at 5:30 to be out at the ranch to feed everyone breakfast.
The next day, I missed Jules at work. The schedule wasn't like it had been, but it was still busy and my thoughts turned to her many times during the morning. And those thoughts were tender. I felt "soft" towards her, I felt LOVE for her, for who she is. It was like in those moments of looking deep into her eyes and her looking into mine, I fell in love. I saw something beyond the Julie I know, something beyond her appearance, beyond her words, something deep within her...something like a shared humanity, but maybe even something beyond human-ness, something of her essence or spirit. And that love has continued to this day, a week later.
I saw Jules today at a friends house. I spent the better part of the day with her and some other female friends. At one point I told the group how I felt...how the experience had affected me. She seemed a bit embarrassed and I later apologized for speaking so freely about it. I told these women that I think we should all be required to look into someones' eyes for a long while (way beyond our comfort zone) and see where it leads us. It is a powerful thing to realize that indeed, we are all in this together and that we NEED each other in ways we can't imagine. And there is comfort in the recognition of our shared spirit.
I don't know if I will always feel this way about Jules, but I know I will never be able to see her as I did before. And I am glad for that.