by Joanie Butman
Ever since the Choose Wisely! project started, stories have landed in my lap. Actually, stories have been landing in my lap all my life. I suppose that is why I started writing – so I wouldn’t forget them. Anyway, this recent one is a perfect example. I could call it How My Husband Found Me in the Arms of Another Man because that would surely grab the reader’s attention. Sadly, if he had walked in on us, he probably would have just shaken his head and mumbled something like, “Not another one.”
It all began with a plumbing issue. I have never underestimated the value of a good plumber, but that appreciation was about to rise to an entirely new level. I will spare you the smelly details, but Bob (the plumber) arrived to determine the cause of a heinous odor that was pervading our house. I brought him into the basement and gladly left him to do his thing. Minutes later the problem was diagnosed, and he set about replacing a cracked pipe after warning me that he was cutting the pipe, he didn’t have a change of clothes so I had to PROMISE not to flush the toilet while he was working. I’m glad I didn’t forget because if I had, the following story would have been dramatically different. Anyway, a couple of hours later he came up to wash his hands and let me know he was done. He walked into my office and said, “I see you’re a Christian. Where do you go to church?” That started an amazing conversation with this man I just met and may or may not ever see again. I had to ask, “How did you know I was a Christian?” I imagined being surrounded by a glowing light or something divine like that, but it was simply from a Bible verse he saw on the counter when he was washing his hands.
I remembered the prayer I said just an hour or so before Bob arrived. I asked God, “What do you want me to do today? If there is something I need to do, please let me know.” Here was my answer delivered right to my office. He had a story for me to write. And do you know what this man said to me before he even knew what I did? “I’m just here to encourage you.” I secretly hoped that encouragement would include the permanent elimination of the stench in the basement. Then as we talked and shared stories, it became even more meaningful. We shared stories about our family and our faith journeys. He cried as he described how faithful God has been to him throughout his life. He spoke about his recovery, his church, his marriage, his children, his friends, and his business with his Christian faith beautifully woven throughout. All because he saw a bible verse I had printed out for my daughter on the counter.
As I thanked him and we hugged goodbye, he repeated “I’m just here to encourage you to continue doing what you’re doing.” There were more messages in the details of our conversation, but that was the one that meant the most to me on many levels – none of which included that long-forgotten pipe. What a gift this man gave me at no cost to himself except his time. Something too many of us aren’t willing to give. He also said something as I walked him to the door, “You can’t make this stuff up!” I had to laugh and agree; no one is going to believe this one – except maybe my husband who has always claimed, “When I die, I want to come back as a worker at your house!” Plus, he may not have found me in their arms, but he has walked in on me deep in conversation with any number of men: the headmaster of my children’s school, teachers, contractors, painters, masons, even the mailman. Nothing surprises him anymore.
My thoughts then turned to a book I was reading the previous day, Simple Graces, The Quiet Gifts of Everyday Life. In it Ken Nerburn speaks about how people live in fear. “We all live in fear of being judged by others while the empty space between us is waiting to be filled by a simple gesture of human caring.” He goes on to discuss “blue moments,” which is what I believe I experienced with my new friend. Nerburn learned about blue moments in his 20s while overseas. An elderly woman noticed a frightened, ill, lonely, distraught young man and took him under her wing for just a few minutes to teach him a valuable lesson.
The blue moment can happen any time or any place. It is a moment when you are truly alive to the world around you (including being momentarily connected to someone on a deep level). It can be a moment of love or a moment of terror. You may not know it when it happens. It may only reveal itself in memory. But if you are patient and open your heart, the blue moment will come. Listen carefully to me. This is a blue moment. I really believe it. We will never forget it (and indeed he did not). At this moment you and I are closer to each other than to any other human being. Seize this moment. Hold it. Don’t turn from it. It will pass and we will be as we were. But this is a blue moment, and the blue moments string together like pearls to make up your life. It is up to you to find them. It is up to you to make them. It is up to you to bring them alive in others. Always seek the blue moment.
I’ve had these experiences all my life but never knew there was a name for them. I always considered them God moments and still do. How curious that she chose to call them blue moments. Blue has such a melancholy connotation, and these moments are anything but. I always come away with a skip in my step, energized, joyful and overflowing with gratitude for the gift of that moment. It is life at its purest. I meet people in that empty space every day. I can honestly say the best part of me lives in that space. It is also the first part of me to be sacrificed when I choose to let my life get too busy to spend time there. Much like Nerburn’s grandmotherly tutor, Bob walked into my office and my life for a couple of hours but probably left a bigger impact than some I’ve known for a lifetime.
Yes, I suppose it is fear above all else that keeps people from connecting, from sharing their stories, from encouraging each other. We all hold the power to connect, but it is only useful when we aren’t afraid to exercise it. Think about it, what’s the worst that can happen? The other person brushes you off. So what? You won’t walk away wondering if you just missed an opportunity to experience a blue moment. I firmly believe that even if they choose not to show it, the gruffest of souls are softened (if only briefly) by a few kind words, a pat on the back or, if the occasion calls for it, a hug.
I thought about what I learned:
- The importance of choosing not to overschedule yourself to the point where you don’t have time to experience the unexpected. You miss out on some of the best life has to offer.
- Choose to be generous with the gift of encouragement.
- Choose to be open to others, and they will be open to you.
- Choose to seek and treasure blue moments.
Do you have a blue moment you would be willing to share?
P.S. That's Bob (the husband) in the photos.