Love is Action
Cynthia DeVita-Cochrane is a talent-developer, a business coach and an applied psychologist. After spending the last decade consulting in nuclear power, she is now focused on supporting business leaders in and around her hometown of Wilmington, NC. She and her husband Nathan also own a cool local glass shop near the beach where they are savoring every minute with the last of their four sons.
It was pouring rain, like the kind that soaks you to the skin in 3 seconds, and as I watched her try to get out of her vehicle, my heart went out to her. I knew she would be drenched long before she reached the rest area buildings. By the time I grabbed my umbrella and got close enough to say, “Hey, can I give you a hand?” her hands were slipping on the car’s doorframe, so I put out my hand to steady her elbow. She looked pretty shocked, and it took her a minute to register my offer, so I put on a big grin to reassure her. “I’m here to help,” I said. “It’s pretty wet out here, huh?” Relaxing, her face reflected her relief as she said, “Well thank you young lady!” We shuffled, very slowly, with her cane splashing in the puddles, and she told me about how one time she had survived a flood, and how much rain fell. It just kept coming and kept on coming she said, kind of like today. Her companion, who at first had stayed in the car, ran up behind us and thanked me, explaining she had been searching everywhere, but couldn't find an umbrella. So when we reached the rest area building, I handed her mine. I assured them I didn't need it; that I could run back to my truck. They offered me two slightly awkward but sincere hugs and I was off, back to my family waiting in the truck, and back on the road towards our family vacation.
I don’t think that this event would have stuck hard in my memory, except for the conversation that occurred afterwards. Three of my four sons were in the car with us on a family vacation, so of course they had witnessed the whole exchange in the rain. After we were back on the road a few minutes, my second-oldest son, who was 15 at the time said “Mom, you’re my hero.” Well, if you know teenagers, you will understand what a strange thing it is for a teenaged boy to say something like this to his mom. I thought for a moment he was joking, so waiting for the other shoe to drop, I heard him continue, “I’m always looking for people to help, because I’ve seen you do that my whole life.” I was a little embarrassed when he went on to list other things he had seen, and I won’t bore you with all those details, but it was suddenly very clear that he had seen a lot. And that seeing and how hearing my husband and me be intentional about giving, when we saw a need, had shaped him. Wow. It was a humbling and exhilarating moment for me; maybe one of my best parenting moments ever. Almost enough to balance all those times I was totally sure I had botched the whole child-rearing experience completely.
And what happened next was really cool because for an hour or so I got to share with my sons some important stories from my own youth. I told them how I had been shaped to let love pour out of me, because it had been so poured into me at a young age. I had watched my own mom and dad be generous and care for people in need. I got to tell them about a time when I gave money to someone as I was getting on a plane in L.A. and my friend commented, “Oh, you’ve just fed his habit.” And, how afterwards I felt so bad that something I meant for good could be mishandled, or maybe even perpetuate someone’s ill fortune. So, I asked God to only show me people who had a real need, and if the need was not genuine, or to keep me from supporting the wrong journey for someone, make sure I didn't have anything to give when they asked. I was able to share with my sons how that has allowed me to reach out to anyone and everyone who asked, if I had the means and time to give, and I have never had to hesitate.
We got to talk about how love is action, and how everyone has hard times, and how all of us will need help at some point, and how allowing people to have dignity when they are in need is so important. It was a magical conversation and I will never forget it. I think about it almost every time it rains really hard. And I hope that sweet old lady still has my umbrella.
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