The gift of Interruption

"The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one's 'own,' or 'real' life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one's real life -- the life God is sending one day by day." - C.S. Lewis


I can’t recall what song was playing, but I remember singing along with the radio when I saw her body being flung like a rag doll into the air bag. My sing-a-long was interrupted by the sound of glass shattering, followed by my own gasp.

Our light turned green and we coasted around the accident to the side of the street, where my first instinct was—uncharacteristically, I should say—to jump out of the car. I wasn’t the only one. A small group of people quickly flooded the four-way intersection. All around me cars were left running in park with the doors thrown open.

I ran to see if the lady who had been hit was okay. Before I reached the car, someone yelled, “Call the police!” and my fingers began dialing 911. I answered a dozen questions, quick to note the sketchy characters stumbling out of the other car, a truck, which was parked across the street. No visible injuries to that party; they were too busy removing what looked like beer cans from the inside of their vehicle, tossing them into the bed of their truck.

The victim, an elderly woman named Dolores, appeared to be okay, and a few of us remained in the street for a minute hovering around her damaged car. One lady wearing teal scrubs asked Dolores a few questions. “She’ll be fine!” she said to me before returning to her vehicle.

Another young woman gave me her phone number, insisting she caught the whole accident on her dash cam. “I can’t stay, but you can give the police my phone number!” she said as she ran off.

I stuck my head in the car and asked Dolores if she was okay. Her hands were shaking. She didn’t look fine to me. The group of helpers scattered as quickly as they appeared and in a matter of minutes I was the only one left standing in the middle of the intersection, next to a puddle of glass, trying to comfort someone else’s grandma.

“Are the police coming?” she asked, her voice just as shaky as her hands.

“Yep, I called them myself,” I said with a smile. “They’re on their way, and I’ll stay with you until they get here, okay?”

She told me she didn’t want to be a bother, and asked if I was sure. I told her she wasn’t a bother, and that I was. I took her cell phone and offered to call a family member. She asked me to call her daughter Tara. I left a voicemail.

Traffic started building up around us, and a man finally got out of his car and shouted, “Hey! Can she get out of the car?”

Her door was jammed, and although I have no medical training or knowledge whatsoever, I’ve seen enough episodes of Grey’s Anatomy to know that regular citizens are not supposed to move the injured after an accident like this.

“I don’t think we should move her!” I yelled back.

Dolores had mentioned having a lot of pain in her legs, and I didn’t want to risk doing further damage to possible injuries. My husband Brett, who had been keeping an eye on the guilty truck, ran over from across the street to assess the situation.

“We need to get her car out of the middle of the intersection,” the man told Brett.

We asked Dolores if she could steer, and she nodded. Brett suggested I get in the car with her, so I climbed in while they pushed us to the side of the road.

“That’s it,” I directed, “A little more to the right …”

Once we settled next to the curb, Dolores asked for her glasses.

“Where are they?” I asked.

“I was wearing them when I got hit … I think … I think they were hit off my face. I don’t know where they are,” she stammered.

A minute later I found them tucked underneath my seat. I held them up in victory.

“Oh thank you, dear,” she said, putting the frames back on her face, looking at me clearly for probably the first time.

She started asking questions: where I live, what I saw, where I was going that night. I told her we were on our way to dinner. I did not tell her my mother-in-law was home with our kids, or that she had been there all day and was doing us a favor by staying late. I did not tell her we were starting Whole30 in the morning and that I had been dreaming of my last meal (chicken tacos) for the past three hours.

Over and over again she thanked me for staying with her, telling me I was kind. Over and over again I reassured her I had nowhere important to be. It was the truth.

The fire trucks arrived thirty minutes later, and a police officer twenty minutes after that. When I watched the firefighters pull Delores from the car onto a stretcher and she shrieked in pain, I was thankful we hadn’t attempted to move her ourselves.

It wasn’t until a week later when I spoke to her daughter that I’d learn she had fractured her pelvis.

I also learned she was 88.

-----

I open Voxer and find a new voicemail from a friend, the fourth one this week. She is crying, confiding in me that her son has been biting other kids. She tells me how hard and exhausting it is, how she’s read 100 articles about what to do. She describes all the methods they’ve tried, the discipline strategies they’re implementing. She is worried this is all people see when they look at her son: a biter. She tells me about all of the other wonderful qualities her son possesses—his friendly and outgoing personality, his adaptability and spunk. I hear a mixture of guilt and sadness and frustration in her voice. I feel helpless. I want to reach through the phone and hug her.

A tear rolls down my face while I listen.

And then she says, “I’m sorry I keep calling you and crying. I don’t mean to burden you with this.”

-----

I sent Dolores a get well card a week after the car accident. A few days later, we spoke by phone. And a week after that, a card turned up in my mailbox.

Dear Ashlee and Brett,

It is seldom I am at a loss for words, but at this time, I am. My everlasting gratitude for the attention and care you showed me at the scene of my auto accident. What a beautiful world this would be if there were more of you.

In sincere appreciation,
Dolores

A $100 gift card was tucked inside to a restaurant Brett and I had been wanting to try. I felt guilty accepting something so extravagant for such a small deed. We were an hour late to dinner, who cares?

But to her, I realized, that hour was everything.

-----

I’m sitting at the head of a long white table, jotting down one more note in my journal. The air conditioner is blasting cold air on my shoulders, and the little hairs on my arms prick up as 20 women wander in, chatting and giggling, to take their seats. I’m leading them in a 7-week bible study on the topic of friendship.

Today we’re talking about showing up and the willingness to be interrupted.

Prior to this study, I’d never really noticed that quality in Jesus before. I mean, I’ve read the bible; I know the miracles. But I never paid much attention to the fact that almost every miracle Jesus performed was completed on the way to somewhere else. His whole life on earth was, essentially, a series of interruptions.

For example, one day while he was sitting with his disciples, a man burst through the doors begging Jesus to raise his daughter from the dead. On the way to that house, a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years reached out and touched his cloak. She was healed, as was the man’s daughter, and when Jesus went on from there, he encountered two blind men and a demon-possessed mute. He healed all three.

Four miracles back to back, each one an interruption.

Right before this happened, scripture says Jesus had been “reclining” at the table. That’s my favorite part. How many times have we mothers sat down to recline for a minute when someone suddenly needs a snack, a puzzle, more batteries for their toy, a new diaper?

Jesus feels us, I joke.

We spend the rest of the morning talking about interruptions as it pertains to friendship. One woman, Sherri, tells us about a friend of hers who always says, “It’s never a good time. So just call me anyway!”

It’s never a good time.
Call me anyway.

I love that.

I think about how rarely I call people on the phone. I text, I vox, I e-mail. All communication from me is sent in a leisurely, get-back-to-me-when-it’s-convenient-for-you fashion. And to be honest, that’s how I prefer to receive communication back. I don’t want you to interrupt my day. And I don’t want to interrupt yours.

It’s 2017. This is what people do.

We get in car accidents and feel terrible for interrupting a couple on their way to dinner. We cry on the phone and immediately apologize for interrupting someone else’s pleasant day.

I’ll be honest here. I try to avoid interruptions as much as possible. I drive past car accidents all the time. I often ignore homeless people on the street, either because I don’t have money—or, most likely—because I don’t “have time.” I do not ever answer my phone if I don’t know the number (sometimes I don’t answer even if I do know the number because if it’s important I assume they’ll leave a message and I can call back later). At the heart of it, this is selfishness. I value my time and energy, and I want to remain in control of how I spend those things. 

But Jesus was never annoyed by interruptions; he welcomed them with open arms. He stopped every single time. Jesus was always on the go heading to a new city, but no matter where he was going, the most pressing mission always became the one right in front of his face. Every interruption was a gift; an opportunity to love someone, to offer hope, to provide a miracle on the way to dinner.

There are 24 hours in a day. Think of everything we might be missing by making ourselves unavailable.

It’s never a good time.
Let’s call anyway.  

bright yellow wings.

She was impossible to miss with her cheerful yellow wings, outlined in black as if God himself had carefully colored inside the lines. I juggled Everett in one arm, his sweaty head pressed up against my cheek while I yanked my iPhone out of the diaper bag pocket to take a picture. After all, it's not every day that you find a beautiful butterfly perched on your garage floor. The symbolism alone stopped me in my tracks.

I love finding beauty in the unbeautiful. It reminds me that in all things, there is hope. It reminds me that there is grace and forgiveness waiting for me, for you, despite all of the ugly things we've done. He's looking right past the dirt, the stains, the giant cracks and pieces of trash waiting to be swept up. Yes, He's looking for the bright yellow wings, a transformation, a stirring of heart.

Because once that happens, the ugly garage floor might as well disappear altogether.

Those bright yellow wings will carry us right on home.

a typical morning looking for lice.

"I think my scalp is bleeding." Brett walked into the kitchen and I looked up at him in confusion, pausing between bites of cereal.

"Huh?"

"I just did my hair and saw a bunch of red spots on my scalp. When I touched them, I had blood on my fingers!"

I placed my bowl of cereal on the coffee table, and told Brett to sit down so I could examine his head. Sure enough, there were little red spots on the top of his scalp. It looked like dried blood.

"Does it hurt?" I asked.

"No, it doesn't hurt at all. What do you think it is?"

"Hang on," I said, as I grabbed my iPhone. I immediately started googling bloody scalp, bloody hair, bloody head, etc. Naturally, everything from skin cancer to Celiac Disease to Hemophilia popped up as a result, including the grossest of all: LICE.

"Oh. My. Gosh. Do you have LICE? Are those bite marks?!" I asked in horror.

"No way! My head doesn't itch!" he protested.

"Babe....you know I love you....but there is no way I am going to comb lice out of your hair. I just.....can't."

My arms were getting itchy just talking about it.

We stared at each other.

"Maybe you should call your mom," I said. Brett's mom used to be a nurse, so she's usually the first person we call when we have a health concern. We told her about the blood spots on Brett's scalp, and asked if it could be lice. She seemed doubtful, but instructed me to look though his hair again to see if I could spot any eggs. Gross. I took a deep breath and started combing through Brett's hair with my fingers.

"Well....do you see anything?!" Brett was on the edge of his seat, literally.

"I don't see any eggs.....wait a minute....what is THAT?" I squinted my eyes, unsure of what I was looking at.

"Babe....I just found a blue spot too!"

"Blue?!!"

Seriously, WHAT IS THAT? Is it mold? Can people grow mold in their hair??? First lice and now this? I kept my thoughts to myself and kept combing through his hair looking for bugs and other signs of mildew.

A few seconds later, I came across another section of Brett's head that was covered with green and yellow spots. I immediately started laughing as I realized what it was.

"That's not blood on your head, it's leftover COLOR! From the color run!"

Brett still looked a bit confused, but also extremely relieved that he didn't have lice.

Lesson learned for next year: wash hair at least eight times after the color run before assuming you have a lice and mold infestation growing on top of your head.

the color run Sacramento

p.s. In case you were wondering, I walked the whole thing. Thanks for reassuring me that it's okay to not love running.

eyes that see.

Last Thursday, I walked to work with a blind man. It was a relatively cold morning, for August anyways. My exposed legs felt a chill wrap around them as I walked up the steps from our parking garage, not-so-conveniently located six blocks away from work. I took a deep breath and was reminded once again of my fondness for the morning. I walked past my favorite little soup cafe, which already smelled of garlic and fresh herbs.

As I stepped up to the crosswalk, I noticed how especially busy the streets were, hustling and bustling more than usual. The light rail whizzed in front of me before the signal changed and it was safe to walk. Falling into a tiny sea of people, I crossed the street and put my sunglasses on, mentally creating a to-do list for the day. My thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a clattering sound behind me.

Clack. Clack. Clack.

I glanced over my shoulder and saw a blind man with a white cane coming straight towards me, sweeping his stick across the ground back and forth rapidly in front of him. By instinct, I jumped to the left out of his path. He sped right past me, and I watched in awe as he skated up the sidewalk with his cane. Curious and concerned, I quickly scurried up behind him, with my own clack clack clack of high heels. We walked together for one whole block, him leading and me following, my heart pounding with emotions. Ache. Sympathy. Gratefulness.

I thought of my friend Laura, who was recently diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that is slowly causing her to go blind. My heart hurt for her. She's one of the most beautiful girls, inside and out, that I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. I said a quick prayer for her and the blind man in front of me, and thanked God for giving me eyes that see.

Together, the blind man and I approached the second crosswalk. I fought the urge to throw my arm in front of him, before I knew for certain that he would stop abruptly at the curb and not walk into oncoming traffic. He walked so fast, and while simply watching him gave me anxiety, I had to admire his courage. He wasn't scared to walk, hesitating with each step. He walked with a purpose. Intention. Although he could not see, he knew exactly where he was going, as if refusing to live in fear. Standing there, side by side, I was overwhelmed with compassion and admiration for this blind stranger.

The signal changed and we kept walking, him leading and me following. I watched people stare at him, and wondered if he could feel them looking. I thought about my own two eyes, which are fully functioning, yet very poor in sight. I imagined myself walking up J street without my contacts, and how blurry everything would be. I've worn them for thirteen years and can barely see a foot in front of me without them. I tried to picture myself walking with a purpose, with nothing but a cane to protect me. As much as I'd like to believe I would be brave and fearless, the mere thought is terrifying.

As we approached the hotel, I noticed the man slowing down. Was he lost? Should I say something? It took me a moment to realize he was listening to the guys chatting at the valet stand. Once he realized he was in the right spot, he quickly turned right, hitting the door with his cane.

"Let me get that for you sir."

Eddie opened the door and I said good morning as I walked in behind the man. He was headed for the elevator, and I watched him put his hands on the walls, searching for the buttons. My heart hurt.

"Are you going up?" I asked him, desperately hoping he could hear the smile in my voice.

"Yes," he replied.

"Over here, I've got an elevator open."

He fumbled towards me, and again I fought the urge to simply grab his hand and lead him onto the elevator safely.

"Where you headed?" I asked.

He took his sunglasses off and looked right at me. I stared back, wondering what he saw.

"Seven please."

I pushed three and seven, and watched the doors close.

"How are you doing today?" I asked.

"I'm okay," he replied. "It's been a whirlwind of a week."

Before I had time to think of something else to say, the elevator arrived at the third floor.

"This is my floor. Just a few more until seven, okay?"

"Okay, thank you very much," he said.

"You're welcome. Have a nice day..."

I stepped off the elevator and for the third time that morning, fought the urge to touch him. To hug him. To squeeze his hand and tell him that it was going to be okay. To tell him that God loves him and for all intents and purposes, I did too.

For the rest of the day I thought about my eyes, and how often I complain about my contacts, or joke about being blind without them. I felt guilty for taking something so precious for granted. Five days later, I can't stop thinking about that blind stranger. I'm not sure why, or what else I could have done or should have done to help him.

Come to think of it, maybe it wasn't my fate to help him at all.

Maybe it was his fate to help me.

To give me a little perspective, and remind me of how blessed I am to have eyes that see.