I hugged a stranger in a bar…

This is almost an oxymoron for me – the words “in a bar,” not that I hugged a stranger. Let me explain.

My body doesn’t handle alcohol well. It causes migraine headaches and so I made the decision years ago to drink water, coffee, milk, and an occasional orange juice. So for me to sit and sip with friends in a bar is an unusual event for me. For the record, I sat with fellow writers in the bar/grill at the Renaissance Convention Center in Schaumburg, Illinois at the Catholic Writers Guild LIVE conference.  After a day filled with new friends, learning, and sharing our faith, we gathered to share food and stories.

Because of the size of the convention center, there were other groups sharing the beautiful facility. By 9 o’clock, the bar appeared to be the destination spot for a large sampling of the various organizations that held their meetings here.

Because I’m an early riser, I knew my day needed to end. I sang “Good Night, Ladies” to the women at my table and squeezed my way through the crowd. I had almost made it to the exit when I bumped into a young woman who grinned at me. “Are you looking for a drink?” she asked.

“No, I’m looking for my room.”

She laughed and the conversation began. I inquired which group she represented. She mentioned the business, and I countered with “I’m with the writers conference.” She wanted to know what I write and of course I brought up my favorite topic – mental illness. And the bump into a stranger morphed into a connection that illustrates a sobering statistic  – one in four families deal with mental illness.

Within minutes I knew about the death of a neighbor/friend to suicide after a battle with depression. We shared grief, hope, and the cultural reaction to it. I understood the pain for I’ve experienced the loss of someone I love who suffered the same illness.

“I want to buy your book,” she mentioned. I happened to have a copy of my book, Broken Brain, Fortified Faith in my tote bag because a fellow writer asked me to bring her a copy. We hadn’t connected yet so she could purchase it. I told the young woman and she whipped out her wallet. I signed the copy as we stood in the crowd. I finally knew her name as I wrote it in the book.

We hugged and parted with a promise to reconnect via e-mail.

This is not an isolated incident. It doesn’t matter where I am, who I’m with, or the circumstances of our encounter, I meet companions on this journey.  At least twenty-five percent of people I meet have dealt, or are currently in a situation that involves mental illness. I meet people in church, at parties, while I shop, and now in a bar. I smile as I think about it. I want to be a disciple of Jesus, to take His love to all those I meet. I just didn’t think it would be in a bar and I smile at the irony. God must have a sense of humor.

And so I continue to open the door to meaningful conversations with everyone I meet. I want to share our common human experience, support others in their struggles, pray for them and their loved one. I want to bring awareness to the epidemic of mental illness, donate to the research we need to understand it more and change the culture of stigma that surrounds it. I want everyone to live in hope, that recovery is possible and that maybe one day it will happen for everyone’s loved one. We’re all in this together.

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: Pride and Prejudice

It’s true – the book is always better than the movie. In 2015, I watched the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice and loved it. It’s my go-to movie for relaxation. At a 4th of July party, my eighteen-year-old niece encouraged me to finish reading the book. “It has so much detail,” she said. “Especially the ending. It wraps everything up.” At her encouragement, I downloaded the audio version through my local library to my smart phone, put on my earbuds, and joined the twenty-first century.

I must admit. I looked forward to my daily walks, to my household chores, and time behind the wheel so I could “read” Pride and Prejudice and travel back in time through the words of Jane Austin.

I loved to feel annoyed with Mrs. Bennett, cringe when Mr. Collins talked, roll my eyes at Lydia, and sympathize with Lizzie, Jane, Mr. Darcy, and Mr. Bingley. All of them made the mundane things of life feel enjoyable as I joined them in their world while I did my work in mine. It also made me long for a time of manners and decorum, something I feel we’ve lost in our culture.

I laughed when they characters “told each other off” with such eloquence, and then wished them health and happiness before they left.

I enjoyed the lessons I learned through this story. How often do I make assumptions about people before I have all the facts? How important is prestige and money in life? How do I treat others? Am I willing to change my views?

The ending left me content. I know I’ll return to this book again and again to enjoy the rich language, the method Jane Austin used to craft her story, and loose myself back in time. And to remind myself on the use of manners.

Now, I need to download my next good read and go take a walk.