Sarah slowly unfolded the pink note her assistant had just handed her. There was no warning, no indication or subtle clue, that her life was about to change. In the space of a few hours, Sarah would never see the world in quite the same way. Sitting down in the privacy of her own office, she read the words again, forcing deep breaths, trying to steady her hands. The pediatrician wanted to discuss Emma’s test results. She’d known the call was coming, but she wasn’t ready.
Sarah knew she must call the doctor back, but she couldn’t bring herself to pick up the phone. In her mind’s eye, she saw her daughter’s rainbow striped socks sticking out of the hulking MRI machine last Tuesday. The idea that there could be some darkness, something lying in wait to hurt her daughter, made Sarah nauseous. She would call the doctor, but not yet.
She had one task left this afternoon before she could switch from work mode to mom mode. She’d promised a client she’d bring documents over for signatures. Mrs. Shirley didn’t leave her house much anymore; it seemed too taxing a trip for her to come to the office. Worried and scattered as Sarah felt with the doctor’s news looming over her, she wished someone else could take her place today. She knew one of her peers would willingly do it, but then she’d have to explain why she wasn’t up to the long drive to see the client. Sarah wasn’t ready to call the pediatrician back; she certainly wasn’t ready to voice her fears to a co-worker. She grumbled her way out to the car with the paperwork, already certain traffic would be horrendous and wanting this day to end.
Mrs. Shirley greeted Sarah at the door an hour later and Sarah nodded at a scrub-clad girl on her way out. She caught a portion of the name tag: Visiting Nurse. She glanced warily at her client as she took the chair opposite her at the little kitchen table. The narrow mobile home left much to be desired in the way of space, but it was clean and cheerful, and something smelled wonderful. Jane Shirley navigated around her long snaking oxygen tubing and transferred holiday cookies from a pan to a cooling rack.
She set a plate of warm cookies in front of Sarah. “Good timing, I wasn’t sure I’d be done with my nurse before you arrived.” She told Sarah in a matter of fact tone that her heart condition was worsening and the nurse came twice weekly now.
Sarah had no words. She’d known the woman wasn’t in good health but what could she say? She took a deep breath to speak but nothing came out. Mrs. Shirley must have read her expression. She pushed the plate of cookies a little closer.
“They’re white chocolate cranberry and chocolate butterscotch. And this,” she moved slowly but steadily to the counter again, “is going home with you for your family.” Another larger foil wrapped plate with a red bow joined the smaller one on the table.
As Sarah began sorting through the documents, Jane Shirley kept a running monologue.
“My daughter is coming to pick me up tonight, it’s my grandson’s birthday—he’s in that picture up there. Isn’t he a handsome one? He’s an all A student and such a good boy.
“I can’t wait for our first bit of snow, you know? They say we might get flurries later. The first dusting is always the best. Makes everything sparkly and new. I’ll be glad to be out in it this evening.
“These cookies were so easy. I try to make a fair assortment of sweets every year. My family loves the cranberry ones. Remind me to give you the recipe before you leave.”
Sarah realized halfway through the stack of papers that the woman was happy. Excited about her plans for the evening. Proud of her grandson. Eager to spend time with her well-loved family. She spent the remainder of her time in the modest little home watching Mrs. Shirley’s face. Her smile when she talked, the warmth she exuded when she asked how Sarah’s daughter was, the genuine appreciation in her tone when she thanked Sarah for coming all this way.
Thirty minutes later in her car, the waning afternoon sun throwing shards of light and shadow across her field of vision, she knew what Mrs. Shirley had neglected to mention. There wasn’t a word about her heart condition—not after that initial explanation of the nurse’s presence. Was it ignorance? Blind faith in her doctors? How could the woman seem so at peace, emanate such a positive attitude, knowing her health might fail?
Sarah was only ten minutes from home when she pulled over to make the call. She couldn’t put it off any longer, the office was closing. While she waited for the pediatrician to come on the line, she thought of Mrs. Shirley. It wasn’t the possibility of defeat that ruled the woman’s attitude, she mused. It was the possibility of bliss. Of accepting the joy we are given, the small portions there in front of us all the time. The trick was in seeing these gifts.
Dr. Ross came on the line and Sarah closed her eyes. She sat that way for a long time after the call had ended, hands still on the steering wheel. Emma would be fine. The MRI was clear. Sarah could breathe again. She opened her eyes to find it was nearly dark. She was bathed in relief, and all she wanted at this moment was to see her family. To hug her daughter and to give Mark the news Dr. Ross had given her. Their little girl was fine.
As her tires hummed over the last stretch of road to her family, Sarah gazed through the windshield into the night and was suddenly stricken with the weight of life’s precarious balance. This morning she’d been aggravated with work, traffic, clients, overwhelmed with a too-long to-do list, and bracing herself for bad news from the doctor. None of it mattered. She was fortunate enough to have a healthy daughter and a new perspective. Nothing could dull the elation she felt … that she’d begun to feel in Mrs. Shirley’s small, hope-ridden home. She was never so happy to pull into her own driveway.
Sarah was out of her car and in the house in seconds. Mark turned from the stove and she wrapped her arms around him tightly, realizing she hadn’t hugged him like this in far too long. She rested her head on his chest, ignoring his surprise. She would explain this to him, later, if she could. She had to try. She wanted him to feel what she had today, and she was determined to hold onto it. Emma wandered into the kitchen and stopped short at the intimate scene between her parents. She shoved her hands into her pockets and mumbled a quiet greeting, turning to shuffle out, and Sarah nabbed an elbow, reeling her in for a three way hug.
Her newly teenaged daughter squirmed, protesting, and finally gave in, laughing. Sarah told them both the good news. Her daughter smiled and shrugged, but relief was apparent in her expression. Sarah looked up at Mark and saw the sheen to his eyes, saw him swallow hard as he nodded, telling her silently how lucky they were. It had taken nearly losing everything to see how truly rich we really are, Sarah thought. Today was the beginning.
She planted a kiss on her husband and then on her beautiful daughter. “Today has been the most perfect day,” she told them both, smiling.
Sarah didn’t know the secret to seeing the world through these new eyes she’d been gifted. She knew it didn’t come on a recipe card along with a neatly wrapped plate of gratitude. But she also knew she had an obligation now, to herself and to her family, to learn. To appreciate. To fully experience the moments she was given: to recognize them when they appeared, and to seek them out when they were hidden. This life was hers, and she was determined to enjoy the ride.
Commercial women's fiction author. Debut novel THE FALL OF OUR SECRETS E-Lit Books