I stopped off at a fancy supermarket yesterday on my way home from a cycle ride. I got to the till, sweaty in my cycle gear, and the assistant welcomed the woman in front of me like a long-lost friend.
“She’s so nice,” the assistant explained when it was my turn, as if by way of apologising for the time she took with her. (I didn’t mind in the least, it was nice to bask in the warmth of their conversation.)
“Is she a friend?” I asked.
“Oh no, I just see her at the checkout. I’ve been working here for twenty years,” replied my friendly assistant.
As she put my steak and salad through the scanner she continued to chat.
“I started to work here after my boyfriend died.”
“Oh I’m so sorry,” I said, a kind of automatic reaction.
“It’s OK, I have someone else now,” she continued. “I stopped believing in god though.”
That last part was emphatic, as if the loss of her god affected her more than the loss of her boyfriend — or at least that was the piece she still continued to grieve, twenty years on.
I don’t believe in god either, not that kind of old man in the sky she seemed to be pointing to, less creator and more controller.
But I could feel the emotion behind her words and fumbled for something to say in response.
Nothing came out and all I could do was to hold her hand and squeeze, to let her know I’d heard and felt her, as she passed me the receipt.
What comes to me as I write this is that I wish I’d had the quickness of mind to put my feelings into words.
To ask what feels true to me now as I reflect on that moment together. To ask what else is ‘god’ if not what she and I experienced in those few seconds — connection, compassion, and an expression of love between two perfect strangers. If that’s true then she hasn’t lost anything at all.
Sometimes we don’t need the words, the feeling of love is enough. And, sometimes, it’s nice to put things into words.
About the author
Cathy Presland is an expert in personal and professional leadership and an advanced transformative coach. She has more than two decades of experience in government and international organisations and her focus as a coach is to support individuals and organisations to improve their leadership and effectiveness, in a way that removes and reduces the need for tactics and techniques.