Beside her, a younger woman, early twenties, kneels beside her grasping her hands where they sit twisting a kleenex in her lap. Her long ashen blond hair covers her face. She looks up at me as I enter the room, she too is crying.
These are not tears of sadness. They are of joy.
It is a reunion. Though neither of them anticipated they would meet in this place. That they would connect their hearts once again on this day.
The woman in the chair is a client of the shelter where I work. She's been there almost four years. An abusive past. Relationships gone bad. Health deteriorating. A life-changing disease that leaves her feeling helpless, frightened and fragile.
The younger woman has come to volunteer with her workplace as part of their United Way Days of Caring. She wonders, even before she comes, if her mother might be here. She wonders if she might see her.
And then she does.
The group of volunteers have just finished their tour of the building. They step onto the elevator and she sees her. Her mother standing on the far side of the elevator. She sees her and tears start to flow. "Mom," she whispers. And then louder. "Mom."
The older woman looks into the crowd of people on the elevator with her. She barely recognizes the young woman. "She's changed so much since I last saw her," she tells me later. "Her hair is less red. Straight too. And she's cut it." Tears are still streaming down her face when she tells me this. Tears of joy. Of sorrow. Of fear. Of regret. Tears that she has held back for a long time in this place where she has hidden out, trying to forget the past she cannot change.
One of my staff has called me down to his office where the women sit. He is excited. Nervous. Unsure of what to do. The rest of the volunteer group wait in the Volunteer Office lobby. They're supposed to be back at the office. But they too do not want to leave. They have been part of this reunion. They don't want it to end.
I open the door to the office where the two women are crying together. The younger one says, "I have to get back. Everyone's waiting. I'll be back at 3:30 to pick you up. We'll go for coffee. Dinner. We'll just go."
Tears streaming down her face, the mother nods her head. She looks at me. "This is my daughter," she cries. "My daughter."
The daughter stands up from where she has been kneeling beside her mother. "I found her," she says. "I've finally found her."
The daughter hugs her mother tightly and leaves. The mother sits in the chair, unable to move, unable to stop crying. "What am I going to do?" she cries.
"Breathe," I tell her. "Breathe and take it one step at a time."
I have tears in my eyes. I am moved by this moment, moved back to a time when I too held my daughters in my arms for the first time after having disappeared from their lives. In the throes of a relationship that was killing me, I believed it was the best thing I could do for them. I believed they deserved better than me. That I wasn't worthy of their love.
I was wrong.
"It's been years," she says. "I saw her two years ago. Briefly. On a subway platform. I couldn't stop. Couldn't talk to her. I was..."
And she starts to cry again.
"You know she tried to find me a few years ago. Went to shelters in the city. But she never came here. This place was too scary to her. She did meet people who knew me. She had my picture. She'd show it to people and they'd say, "Oh sure, that's Susan," but they didn't know for sure where I was staying."
I remember back. Back to that time when I was lost and so ashamed and frightened of seeing my daughters again. I wanted to. Desperately. But I was scared. Scared that they would believe what had happened to me was their fault. Scared they couldn't forgive me.
I share some of that story with this mother who is so scared, so frightened and so happy to see her daughter once again.
"Where are you daughters now?" she asks.
"They live with me. They're in university. They're absolutely amazing." I tell her. "I've been blessed. My daughters have forgiven the past, forgiven me and we have reclaimed and rebuilt our relationship."
"They forgave you?" she sobs.
"Yes," I tell her. "The love we share is greater than the pain. It always is."
I tell the mother this. I tell her there is nothing in the world stronger than a mother's love and when we open ourselves up to our children's forgiveness, we open our hearts to healing.
"You cannot change the past. You can forgive it. Let it rest in peace, you cannot change it. You can move into this moment right now and claim your right to be free of it. There is nothing in this world stronger than love. Nothing," I tell her.
And I know. My daughters love has carried me away from those days long ago when I would believe there was nothing but the darkness that was consuming me. My daughters love has given me life, just as once, my body gave life to them.
It is the circle of love into which we are all born. A circle that can never be broken, even when we are lost in the darkness within.
And when the circle appears to be broken, all we need to do to reconnect is open our arms, our minds, our hearts so that forgiveness can flow into the open spaces and embrace us with grace.