A Hug of Comfort

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A brief encounter has a profound effect.

“Do you mind if I pray for you?”

The dark-haired woman stood with us in the parking lot. It was late morning on a beautiful fall day—the type of day that had, for the past few years, made me question how much more delightful weather I would be around to enjoy. It’s funny how we mortals begin to appreciate the simple pleasures of life after we are shocked into the realization that we are not immortal.

It was 2012 and, after a second near miss with leukemia, my wife pronounced us ready to invest in a cemetery plot. So, here we were, having closed the transaction and removed that burden from my future widow. Up until the point when our saleswoman asked the unusual question, it had been an inauspicious visit. While we were purchasing the plots and coffins for both of us, I was keenly aware that everything we were doing this morning was because I would need these items thirty years before my wife would.  

Also, I was not well. As a matter of fact, it was to be many months before I would recover and, as we stood there in the warm sun with a cooling breeze passing through the surrounding trees, I could not imagine that I would ever feel normal again. I was taking handfuls of pills three times daily, and the harsh chemotherapy drugs from the previous month were still swimming through my system. And, to make matters worse, I was depressed. Planning for one’s death, feeling sick, and ingesting prescriptions that are likely sending your brain into a tailspin will combine to make anyone feel a little down.

At one point we asked to see where we would be buried. As I walked up to my ultimate resting place (a sweet euphemism for “grave”), I pictured my two daughters standing there grieving for me. They were dressed as if they had just come from church, and they were holding onto one another, sobbing. Other than their mother, these are the two women that I have loved more than anyone in this life, and it pained me to know I had caused their sorrow. (Yes, drugs can cause hallucinations, but I’ll save those details for a future story).

So, there we were, the two of us and the pleasant lady, shaking hands outside after closing the deal. For my part, I was relieved that it was over, and I couldn’t clear out of there fast enough. But I didn’t take two steps before she made her odd request. I was surprised, but pleasantly so. Today, asking to pray for someone is considered politically incorrect, but anyone who knows me also knows how I feel about political correctness. I gladly accepted her offer.

Now, I can’t remember her prayer, except that it brought me comfort, which was what I needed that morning. Her words were heartfelt; she wasn’t just going through the motions. As she let go of my hand, she reached out and gave me a hug. It was not the perfunctory hug that you would expect in that situation. Rather, it was a firm embrace that lasted for several seconds. After she had released me, she looked into my eyes and smiled. “You are going to live a long life,” she said. “I have the gift of sight. There is no doubt you have many years ahead of you. Many do not believe in this. I hope you do.”

I have never seen this woman again. I don’t know if she was a mystic or if she merely felt my despair and wanted to help me. To me, it doesn’t matter. I have held on to her words since that morning. As my health improves, I think about her even more. Some would have passed her off as a kook—I don’t believe she was. Others would call her prediction blasphemous since only God knows the future—if she has special powers, God gave them to her.

I hope this woman had a gift. I hope she has helped others since she helped me. No, my situation did not change after that encounter. But my way of looking at it changed immeasurably. The mind is a funny thing—and mine tends to be funnier than most. If she infused me with the belief that I would live longer than I had expected, and I do, then she performed a kind or miracle. If on the other hand, if she did discern from that hug that I was to live on for many years, then I know she is one of God’s vessels.

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