More Than Words

I lose stuff.  All the time.  I’d like to blame Mommy Brain, but the truth is I was losing stuff long before Lil Mil arrived.  Keys.  Credit cards.  Purses.  My driver’s license.  My passport.  My iPod.  My replacement iPod.

There is no doubt about it:  I’m a loser.

My loserness (not a word, but should be a word.  Maybe I should write my own dictionary for these?) might be a problem in my marriage were in not for the fact that Husband is a loser, too.  Which might just be the reason our marriage works as well as it does.  We understand each other.  We don’t raise our voices or roll our eyes when we arrive somewhere only to discover that the other person has left their Blackberry on the plane or their glasses on the counter at the LAX Starbucks.  We just deal with it.

I think there’s a difference between how our loserness manifests (Husband forgets where he puts things; I put things on counters and then walk away), but that’s the stuff of a different post.  This post isn’t about losing.  This post is about the kindness of strangers.  One stranger in particular.  The woman who found my lost wallet on Friday night.

Lil Mil and I were in Atlanta with Sister and Niece H, visiting my parents.  On Friday, we drove up to my grandparents’ house so Lil Mil could meet them for the first time.  We had dinner at my aunt and uncle’s house (and met my cousin’s boyfriend, who became her fiance 12 hours later!  Yay!), then got in the car for the two hour drive back to my parents’ house.  About halfway there, Niece H got a pretty nasty nosebleed, so we stopped at a gas station to deal with it.  Sister, Niece H and I went to the ladies room.  I brought my wallet with me.

I left it on top of the toilet paper dispenser.

I didn’t realize it was gone until the next morning when I woke up to a voicemail from Citibank telling me that a woman had found it and was holding onto it for me. The bank rep gave me her name and number and told me the woman was expecting my call.

So I called her, armed with a big thank you.  After all, my driver’s license was in my wallet and I needed it to fly back home on Tuesday.  But before I could thank her, the woman started apologizing.  To me.  For not leaving the wallet at the gas station.  She planned to, she told me, but for some reason just didn’t trust the lady behind the counter.  She didn’t get a good feeling, she said.  So here she was, apologizing to me for not leaving my wallet with Sketchy Gas Station Lady.  Apologizing to me for actually caring about the woman whose wallet she had found.  A stranger with a California driver’s license, six dollars in cash, several credit cards and three Embrace the Detour magnets.

Most people would’ve left the wallet where they found it, not wanting to deal with it.  Some would have stolen it.  The rest would’ve left it with Sketchy Gas Station Lady.  Not this woman.  She called the number on the back of my credit card and demanded that the bank call me right then.  She didn’t want me to worry, she explained.

I was relieved.  Grateful.  A little surprised that she had done all of this (I wondered if I would have).  Ready to compensate her for her kindness.  “I’ll come to you,” I said.  “Where do you live?”

The gas station where we stopped is about forty-five minutes from my parents’ house.  I assumed she lived nearby.  Turns out, she’d just been passing through, on her way home from a drag race (this makes me smile).  “I live in Cedartown,” she told me.

Forty-five minutes in the other direction.  An hour and a half from my parents’ house.

I’ve lost enough things in my life to know that in these moments, you don’t think about the cost of your loss (time wasted, experiences missed, plans ruined), you just do what you have to do.  Drive back to the airport to get the dress you left hanging on the back of the bathroom door when you landed in Portland for your friend’s wedding.  Return to the rental car facility in Cleveland to retrieve the iPhone you left in the glove compartment.  Go back to the bar in Boston to pick up the jacket you left hidden behind a couch.

Spend three hours in the car to pick up the wallet I left in a gas station bathroom.

Resigned to my fate, I explained to the woman how far I was.  At which point she offered to meet me halfway.  I hesitated, of course, not wanting to make this nice woman spend an hour and a half in the car.  But she insisted.  Told me she didn’t mind at all.  And so, figuring I could thank her with a chunk of cash, I agreed.

You know where this is going.  We met, she gave me the wallet and she wouldn’t take my thank you money.  She was adamant about it.  “No!” she declared, shaking her head emphatically.  “No.”

“Please,” I insisted.  “For your gas.  For lunch.  You drove all this way, let me just–”

“No.”  She was firm.  Resolute.  “Just do the same if you’re ever in my shoes,” she told me.  She wasn’t just saying it.  She meant it.  I nodded.  I certainly would.

And that was that.  She drove away and I got back into my car, at which point I realized that I had her address.  She’d given it to me when I was trying to figure out how far she lived from my parents’ house.  I can send her something, I thought.  She can’t refuse it if it comes to her house.

It’s the “right” thing to do, of course.  Even if I don’t send her money or a gift, I should send her something.  A card.  A thank you note.  Something to thank her for her kindness.  For doing what she didn’t have to do.

But I saw her face when I offered her that money.  She didn’t want it.  She didn’t want anything.  My thank you was enough.  Two little words.  Words that should be powerful.  But they aren’t.  Not by themselves.  If they were, we wouldn’t need thank you gifts.

And so, 1000 words into this post, I get to the meat of it:  why aren’t words enough?

I love you.  I’m sorry.  I miss you.  Thank you.

Powerful sentiments.   Weak words.  Words that aren’t enough on their own.  If we mean it – if we really mean it – we’re expected to do more than just say it.  Put some walk with the talk.

But why?

Why aren’t words enough?

Now, wait – don’t get me wrong.  I’m not suggesting that words should negate or overpower our actions.  If you love someone, of course you should act like you love them.  And you will, if you really do.  But you shouldn’t have to prove that you love them.  Just like you shouldn’t have to prove that you’re sorry.  Your words should be enough.  Your words should be enough because your words should mean something.  They should embody the sentiment they were designed to express.

The problem, of course, is overuse.  Phrases like “I love you”and “You’re my hero” lose their meaning when we throw them at every Tom, Dick and Harry that comes through the door.  We can’t expect a Thank You to touch a person’s heart if we say it sarcastically as often as we say it sincerely.

I want words to be powerful.  I want them to be powerful both when I say them and when I receive them.  I want to be touched by a Thank You, without an accompanying gift card or bottle of wine.  I want to believe an I’m Sorry, without the perfunctory bouquet of flowers.  I want to accept an I Love You, without a single token of that affection.

And yet.  We live in a world where words aren’t enough.  Where people expect Thank You gifts, I’m Sorry offerings and I Love You presents.  So we give them.  And we expect to receive them.  And we’re disappointed and annoyed when we don’t.

Most of us, anyway.  Not the kind woman who found my wallet.  She isn’t expecting a Thank You gift.  She doesn’t want one.  She knew I was thankful.  She could hear it in my voice and see it in my face.  Thankful and a bit overwhelmed.  By her generosity.  By her graciousness.  By the fact that she had driven all that way not expecting anything in return.

Just do the same for someone else, she told me.  Let your gratefulness to beget generosity.  Become a person deserving of a Thank You from someone else.  And when you get it, let those two words be enough.

And so I’m torn.  I want to send this woman a big bouquet of flowers or a gift card or something.  But I don’t want to degrade her generosity or my gratefulness by doing that.  I want my Thank You to be enough.  I want it to be enough because it meant something.  Not just to her, but to me.

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Seriously, people, I need advice.  As much as I don’t want to degrade her generosity by compensating her for it, I am so very grateful that I want to lavish her with gifts.  What would you do?


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