As the gentle October breeze blew over the great lake it provided both, warmth on the face that evoked memories of summer days not long ago and briskness on the arms that hinted at winter days not far from now.
My family was returning to our summer cottage for the first time in four or five weeks. We spend most of summer at the tiny lake escape, but in the time since we left on Labor Day, school days had started, soccer seasons were underway and leaves were beginning to change color.
With a Columbus Day school holiday, we had just used the long weekend to board up the beloved cottage for winter and were taking a walk on the beach. This would be our final walk of the year as we grabbed fleeces and sweatshirts instead of the sun hats and swimsuits that accompanied us just two months earlier.
Often bustling and busy in the height of summer weekends, the beach was now ours to play and walk. The kids raced ahead and doubled back chasing waves or gulls while my husband and I talked and looked for rocks and beach glass.
I looked to the lake and then up to the shore. We were alone except for one image up on the park benches at the top of the beach, about a hundred yards away. I saw the image jump up and wave her arms furiously. Confused I kept walking, but looked back to realize she was waving even more excitedly now and coming towards us. Over the sound of the waves, I couldn’t hear what she was saying but I could see that her hands were cupped to her mouth. Clearly she seemed to want our attention, but I didn’t immediately recognize this person.
She started to run out towards us and we walked up to greet this woman. We picked up our pace to a trot because at the same time my husband and I processed that it was Jessica! Jessica is actually Judy but we’ve jokingly called her Jessica for years. Judy/Jessica is the mom of a very good friend of ours who we once spent a great deal of time with in our twenties in Washington DC. The friend now lives hundreds of miles away in Denver, but we stay in touch the way that friends do who have forever etched their mark in your heart.
We hugged Judy and all remarked at how funny it was to run into her here and now. She explained that she was visiting the lake with a group of friends but was taking a moment for herself to sit, read and enjoy the view. We told her that we were just closing up for winter. We laughed at the funny coincidence of seeing each other.
She told us all about her new grandson, our friend’s little boy. And we told her that the dinner recipe that she shared with us years ago was now our son’s favorite meal and the one he requested every birthday. We introduced him to her as if she were a celebrity and said that this was the famous Jessica of “Chicken Jessica”.
She laughed and told me that she read all of my blog posts, loved them and took the time to emphasize to me how they touched her. I said an embarrassed thank you and we shared a sentimental moment of me telling her how we’ve always thought so highly of her. I suggested that we take a photo for her daughter, our friend, and send it to her because she’d never believe we ran into each other. We smiled and laughed and gave each other huge hugs offering that we might run into each other again over the next summer.
Afterwards my husband and I talked about how much we’ve always loved her and what a neat lady she is. We laughed at the image of her waving frantically on the bench and remarked that we were so glad she got our attention.
It is now next summer and less than a year later, we sadly celebrated the life of Judy today. She died tragically and unexpectedly following what should have been a routine surgery. While terribly sad, her funeral was wonderfully perfect in that it captured her fun spirit, warm hearted nature and true joy of life. I got to meet my friend’s little boy and spend time with the beautiful family that Judy created and who now grieve deeply for her.
During the past few days I’ve thought of the last time I saw her unexpectedly at the beach last fall. The fun image of her bouncing up and down at the top of the beach and the conversation that followed is one that I’ll carry with me always.
She provided me with a treasured and unique gift that day: a different lens. On that day she shared with me, and then again through my friend recently, that while she was sitting on a bench observing the quiet beauty of the lake, she saw a family playing on the beach together. Before she even recognized us, she enjoyed watching us interact with one another as she thought to herself how happy and loving we seemed together.
I don’t remember that day being anything remarkable. And in fact, I’m sure my husband and I were just talking about the upcoming week or calendar logistics. We could have been bickering or scolding the kids. I don’t think of ourselves in the idyllic way she saw us. Yet in sharing her thoughts with me she gave me the gift of perspective and a lens dulled by softness and without the sharp angles and edge that the day-to-day life issues create.
Without the schedules to coordinate or logistics to plan, she didn’t see the crankiness or grouchiness. By providing us with this filtered image, she reminded me that all of the little stuff is just that, little stuff. If you remove it, you see straight through to what’s really important and that is joy and happiness with the people you love. With that clear vision you are able to realize that life’s little, seemingly unremarkable moments are really the most beautiful ones.
I’m very glad that Judy sacrificed her solitude and enjoyment of the lake to find us. During her quiet time of reflection, we entered her line of vision and instead of letting us pass, she took the opportunity to make a connection. She took a bit of a risk and flirted with a potentially embarrassing situation by being so enthusiastic with her waving. It would have been easier for her to just sit back and let us go. But instead she jumped up and raised her hand in the air. She actively participated! She embraced one of life’s surprises. Judy created the moment.
I’m so thankful for that moment and that memory. I’m so thankful for the gift of friendship, and connection and the spontaneity of life in both its brutality and beauty.
In thinking about this story on this special day and in Judy’s honor, I will vow to not miss an opportunity to connect with someone and bring happiness into their day. I will participate. I will embrace. Because that October day she provided my family with an extra dose of laughter and light, just as she did for so many others on so many other days.