She greeted us with a huge smile and welcoming hug. Her colorful clothing exhibited a confident person willing to add her spicy style to a world gone occasionally bland and pessimistic. When we sat down to chat with her, she demonstrated enthusiasm and excitement for our upcoming event. Bottom line, she was a joy to be with. Only later did we learn that her story was one of suffering, trial and heroic love.
On the particular day of our visit I was experiencing severe back pain and tried to manage it with prescription pain meds, pain cream and my brace. Nevertheless, the pain continued. If I am honest, my mood was pretty bad. I was upset that my back was “ruining” yet another wedding planning day with my daughter. Then we met this woman. As she styled my daughter’s hair, I watched her smile. She was so gracious and humble. If my daughter wanted to change something, she acquiesced without any negative comments. Kindness and goodness exuded from her very person. After I returned from a short walk to stretch my back, I spoke with her and learned a bit more about her life. My mood shifted from one of pity to one of awe.
Years ago this courageous woman emigrated from Ukraine under dire circumstances. She now spends her time and resources as a hair stylist lovingly supporting her family back home. The war in Ukraine has greatly affected her parents, siblings and extended family but she does not despair, her faith is strong. Through heroic efforts of love, she is supporting peace and an end to the senseless fighting. She lives a life which shows and tells that good always prevails over evil.
Meeting this woman in the midst of a really bad pain day was not an accident. I was awestruck by her deep sense of optimism which was buoyed by her love of and faith in God and others. Her attitude was infectious – to be in her presence one could only be happy. I thought about my own chronic pain situation and placed it into proper perspective. This woman was reminding me that the thing that causes one to suffer can also serve as the source of one’s personal growth in love. The incredible Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, “Suffering can become a means to greater love and greater generosity.”
I do believe that my back pain, over these many years, has been the thing that has drawn me closer to God and kept me close to Him. Without it, I don’t think I would seek Him daily, rather I’d wander away foolishly thinking I could do life on my own. The great Franciscan priest, St. Maximillian Kolbe, who gave his life for another in Auschwitz, said ‘The cross is the school of love.” I’m grateful for the “chance” meeting with the heroic Ukrainian hair stylist who helped me to remember that indeed a cross can become a blessing. It’s all about perspective and openness to God’s love.