I am always on the lookout for demonstrations of The Twelve Gifts. Often I encounter them in unexpected ways. One time it was during a mammogram.
The radiology technician, Janice, and I made small talk. At the end of the procedure, as I was ready to leave, Janice stopped me and said, “For some reason I want to give you something. It’s a poem written by my daughter.”
And in just a few minutes, before her next scheduled patient, Janice told me a little about the life …and death… of her daughter, Yana.
After years of running away, struggling, and rebelling, at age 24 Yana moved back to her hometown, reconciled with her parents, and began to live her life joyfully, creatively, and responsibly. Janice was once again enjoying her bright, spirited daughter and the woman she was becoming.
Janice was at her job at the medical center when she heard that, while hiking, a young woman had fallen off a cliff. The accident was probably fatal. Janice began praying for peace for the girl’s soul and for her family. As she did, Janice experienced a sense of peace, feeling that the girl had died doing what she loved.
When Janice learned that the girl was her own beloved Yana, she went into shock. For awhile, Janice was completely numb. But slowly, as she began to feel again, she discovered and received many gifts, not in the death, but in the life of Yana. Some may seem small, but they are significant things that reveal Yana’s large spirit.
For example, looking through photographs, Janice noticed that throughout Yana’s life, from early childhood on, whenever she posed for a picture, Yana leaned in and touched her head to another person in the photo. Janice hadn’t observed that before. Since that recognition, Janice leans in to touch heads during photos and, in general, “leans in” more to touch and connect with people.
At the funeral, a 60 year-old woman who worked at a grocery store with Yana years earlier–when Yana had seemed to be a troubled teen–told Janice about her daughter’s kindness to homeless people who came into the store looking for handouts.
Most recently, Yana was working as a waitress. A diner whom Janice had served told Janice about an incident that revealed Yana’s honesty. Before ordering, he had asked Yana if she had tried the prime rib. Yana answered, “Yes and it is delicious.” Later, she told that man that she wanted to come clean with him. “I’m a vegetarian,” she said. “I didn’t taste the prime rib. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you the truth.”
Months later, on what would have been Yana’s 25th birthday, Janice received a poem that Yana had written a year before she died. Her fiancé had found it among her things and saved it to give to Janice on that special day. It was the poem she shared with me after my mammogram, which I would like to share with you now:
Sometimes…..just for one minute
everything is perfect
and in that moment everything is
and time and space become
because in that moment a lifetime is
However insignificant you think
whatever you’re doing is
it is all most important to do.
The purpose or meaning to life is
Yana’s wisdom, friendliness, compassion, truthfulness, love….all live on in many ways. For her mother, as she shares stories and is influenced by them, and for us, as we hear them and are perhaps influenced by them, too. I know that I am now more likely to lean in and touch my head to someone in a photograph with me. I very well may recall Yana’s “coming clean” when I catch myself in a seemingly harmless white lie. I will remember and be guided by her compassion if ever I begin to judge or feel discomfort around a homeless person.
We all have gifts to share–our own and the gifts we see in our loved ones –that can enrich our lives and help us to be better people.