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I met her at a writers' conference--a woman whose age I found hard to guess, but whose slowed and stiffened gait told me she was at least a few years older than me.  Her voice carried the warm musical cadence of the Caribbean, slow and deep. She was quick to break into peals of laughter that shook her body. I was drawn to this woman, who arrived alone--but seemed at ease with her own company. I caught sight of her over the three days of the conference, en-route to the next workshop or pausing to take a rest, large red purse resting on her lap, while her hands held onto her bag of conference leaflets. It turned out that she is a self described conference addict--a Senior who believes in life-long learning--and this was her fifth conference so far this year.

We sat together at one point and my natural curiosity prompted questions, which she answered slowly and thoughtfully, I learned that she had endured three major tragedies in her life. No-one would blame her for being crushed by any one of them. But like the bruised reed that God refuses to break and the smoking flax he will not quench, she came back from the pit of hopelessness with the help of friends who called out her gifts and encouraged her. 

When I asked her about her writing, she reached into her red bag and pulled out a small book, which she said was a proof copy that she had to read through before it was published. It contained her story, including the life lessons she had learned. She doesn't use the internet, cell phone, or a computer, and the manuscript was written by hand, but what she's learned I would like to read sometime.

I had already taken out my suitcases on an earlier break, and was on my way out of the hotel, headed home at the end of the conference, when I caught sight of her checking out at the front desk and went over to say goodbye. "I'm just arranging for a taxi," she said. I was glad that I had caught her before she did. Moments later, we were headed for my little black Honda Fit in the parking lot, followed by a uniformed Holiday Inn employee, carrying her deceptively small black bags, which I later discovered felt like they contained everything but the kitchen sink. As I closed the trunk I noticed her talking to the brown skinned man with an east Indian accent.  I slid into the driver's seat and he was smiling through the rolled down passenger window. 

My new friend said, "I asked him if he would accept a tip, but he said no." 

He said, eyes sparkling, "I told her to pray for me--whenever she thinks of me--just pray." 

On the way to her home we talked gardening and I heard all about hers, which sounded amazing, and when we arrived at her home in Richmond Hill, indeed, her small front garden was overflowing with vibrant flowers of every colour and hue, and I knew that that an abundant patch of vegetable plants purchased on sale, was also thriving in the back.

Everybody has a story, and whenever I take the time to listen, my life is enriched. As well as all that I had learned at the conference, I went home with admiration for a woman I'd met only briefly and a man who knew what was of more value than money.


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