happenstanceHappenstance is one of those words that puzzles me a bit. Always has. The dictionary defines happenstance as “a chance happening or event.” Do we sometimes chalk up our happenings and events to Chance or is there something else at play? Let me share two “happenstances” from this week and let you decide.

My collie Maisie and I are back at our local hospital for our volunteer pet therapy work. Because of COVID protocols, we are not allowed yet to visit with patients. Instead, we bring cheer to the dozens of hospital staff including doctors, nurses, physical therapists, case managers, receptionists and cleaning crews. We also paws, er, pause in hallways to greet visiting family members and guests.

Smiling Under Her Mask

At the end of our first day back two weeks ago, Maisie and I got off the elevator at the first floor lobby. A dark-haired woman near the front door instantly noticed us. Her eyes lit up and I could tell she was smiling under her mask. As Maisie trotting along, the woman (we’ll call her Iris) almost trotted toward us.

 “Ohhhhhh . . . may I pet your beautiful collie?” Iris eagerly asked.

“Of course that’s why we’re here,” I cheerfully replied to Iris who looks about age 70.  

Juggling a full tote bag, Iris leaned over and stroked Maisie’s adoring face.

“Thank you for this,” Iris exclaimed as she massaged Maisie neck. “My husband has been here almost a month.”

“Awww. I hope he’s doing better,” I offered in genuine empathy.

“Well, uh . . . we don’t know yet,” Iris said slowly. “I’m on my way back up to his room.”

As we parted, I assured Iris that I would pray for her husband . . . and her. She gently nodded and kindly thanked me as she got on the elevator. As Maisie and I turned to visit the ER folks, I prayed for Iris and her husband.

Fast forward to Monday this week. After visiting the nurses in the birth/new baby center, Maisie and I hopped on the elevator for the first floor. When the elevator door opened, we were wonderfully surprised to see Iris. Again, her eyes gleamed at seeing us. As Iris reached to stroke Maisie’s back, I quickly inquired, “How’s your husband doing?”

Unspoken Parting

Iris stood back up and turned her brown eyes toward mine. “He’s, uh . . . not,” she stumbled out with the sobering words. “His brain is shutting down. And, by tomorrow . . . .” Iris couldn’t continue that painful thought.

“I am so sorry,” I muttered back, letting Maisie press into Iris’ leg in a canine hug.

With her eyes now glistening, Iris summed up the impending passing of her husband. “Forty-five years,” she softly muttered. “Forty-five years together.” As she finished those words, Iris raised her hand upward and glanced heavenward. Iris needed no other words. Our unspoken parting said enough. She stepped into the elevator alone.

For a few seconds I stood motionless thinking of Iris’ great love and great loss. Maisie nuzzled me and instantly I realized we didn’t get off the elevator at the first floor. We were on the second floor. We unknowingly exited on the second floor where Iris was waiting to head down too.  

Maisie and I stepped off the elevator one floor too soon. Or did we? How did we end up meeting Iris again at that time of day and on a different floor? Happenstance? Maybe. Maybe not. I am always amazed when I “just happen” to run into someone I know in this city of 465,000, at a place and time where neither of us would normally be. But bumping into Iris for a second week when I intended to be on the first floor, not the second floor? Chance? Coincidence? Fate? Luck? Hmmm….

When Life Dares You to Break

Fast forward to this morning when I was walking Maisie a few blocks south of my house. The local park’s grass is soaking wet this week from rains and heavy overnight dew, so I kept Maisie on the neighborhood sidewalks. Because we got a late start for our walk, I selected a shorter route. As we strolled along, a woman came out of the house across the street. She saw us and smiled broadly as she lifted a small suitcase into her car.

I almost just kept on walking, but I sensed this woman really wanted to greet us. I am glad I crossed over the street to say hello with my Miss Lassie Girl. Turns out, Linda looked familiar. She has been my phlebotomist on a couple occasions over the years. Linda drew my blood about a year ago at her lab and she remembered me from years earlier when I was “extra nice” to her. And she remembered that I wrote books.

This morning, Linda was headed off to work after spending the night at her elderly parents house caring from them since they are in their 90s and failing in health. As we talked, I mentioned that I had a new book that she might be interested in.

“It’s called Bend: When Life Dares You to Break,” I shared.

Leaving Things to Chance

Instantly, Linda eyes welled with tears. “Oh, man, I need that book right now. I sure feel my life is about to break,” she said, looking off into the distance. 

I held Maisie still as Linda opened up about almost losing her daughter this week to an emergency surgery. Linda dropped everything and drove the three hours to be with her. I listened. Maisie leaned in. Together we sent Linda off for her day with a little lightness in her step.

Was it happenstance that I was running late today and chose a different walking route only to run into Linda at her parents’ house? I didn’t know where Linda’s parents live. How would I know she was staying with them on occasion? I didn’t know that her daughter almost died. Was it Chance that we would reconnect the very morning Linda needed a boost from her weary week of bending? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

These two “chance” encounters this week are nudging me to be more aware of the hurting people around me. More often than I’d like to admit, I miss opportunities to offer a listening ear and a collie hug. Just because the world is spinning wildly does not mean I can’t step off the maddening merry-go-round and just be present with someone for a few moments. Even with a complete stranger and someone I barely know. I just don’t want to leave these unplanned connections with people to Chance. Would you?