My mother called to tell me my father had died. I was at work. At the library.
I needed to get off the island to reach her. Now. "You should just wait and come with the kids for the funeral," she told me, putting up the bravest front.
But "No," I insisted. "I don't want you to be alone."
"Okay." Her voice cracked. "Thank you."
I needed to leave work. Figure out what boat might take me over to the mainland in time to meet which bus to get me to the airport to catch whatever plane would get me to Florida where I would need a car to reach my parents' house.
Except that now it was only my mother's house.
Then Daughter #2 called me. From the road, one town over in Vineyard Haven. She was hiking towards the nearest bus stop, in tears over her grandfather, and trying to get home. I told her to sit tight till I got there.
When we were finally headed home together I asked why she hadn't kept her original plan and continued on to the beach with her BF.
"It's not like there's anything you can do at home right now," I explained. "I don't want you just sitting there being sad."
"But." She paused and looked over at me, and her blue eyes filled. "I didn't want you to be alone."
"Oh." I managed to keep my voice steady. "Thank you."
At home my mind was a big fat jumble. Then I phoned The Ex. He is the one person I know who knows all there is to know about catching boats to buses to planes to cars. The Ex travels for a living. George Clooney's character in Up In the Air is, essentially, his life. He is the road-warrior extrordinaire.
"Don't worry," he told me. "I've got it." And, for once, he did.
By chance he was off-island on a job in Massachusetts, an hour from the boat. So he was there waiting when I dragged my hastily packed suitcase off the ferry in Woods Hole. He drove me to Logan. Got me on an earlier flight to Florida. Arranged for a car to be waiting in Orlando.
I cringed when he told the woman behind the JetBlue counter in Boston that my father had just died. I've never played well with strangers, let alone shared my personal tragedies.
But this woman, this stranger, changed my ticket, closed down her computer station, and personally escorted me past the long lines through security, where she assisted me in loading up the gray buckets with my shoes and laptop and quart-sized baggie.
I never even got her name.
What is is about kindness that rips through the bullshit and reaches right inside our hearts, leaving us raw and exposed, stripped down to our essential selves?
And however would we get by without it?
Thank you so very very much for your loving supportive comments and emails these last weeks. You out there are an amazing bunch of people and I am privileged to know you.