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01 September 2007

V is for Vacant

Oldman1500x750_2I received an email recently from someone who reads 37days, a writer I’m sure you will be hearing more of, a woman named Amy McCracken. She was responding to one of my recent alphabet posts, and in responding, shared a story of her own, one that moves and sways and resonates and is the best way I know how to talk about the letter “V.” And so, an excerpt from a recent email that Amy McCracken sent her Dad about a business trip, one on which she “felt so false…like I am not the conference call/business trip girl people might think I am.”


As you know, I flew to Orlando in a very foul mood…By the time I got to the meetings, I wanted nothing more than to take the shuttle back to the airport, get on a flight home, and head straight for my pillow-top mattress in my bedroom overlooking the lake. 

But I didn't. I arrived in time for a catered lunch, broke out into workshops and small groups, and brainstormed about ways to be even more successful at my job—all the while making sure that on the night of the event the DJ arrives on time, the donated Chick-fil-a is kept at proper temperature, and the port-a-johns are delivered to the correct spot.

On the second day, I talked to my peer group about the big secrets of building relationships--BE NICE, LISTEN, REMEMBER THINGS THEY TELL YOU, CALL THEM TO ASK ABOUT SOMETHING THEY TOLD YOU ABOUT THE FIRST TIME YOU MET, DON'T SPEND THE FIRST MEETING ASKING FOR MONEY—GET TO KNOW PEOPLE, BE YOURSELF. Be yourself. The entire time I was speaking, I felt like an imposter--like I was nowhere near being able to take my own advice.   

I left that evening to fly home. I got to the airport early…and started making my way to my gate. TSA employees threw away my toothpaste and some pricey hair gel and made sure that my curling iron was indeed a curling iron. The airport was so crowded…

At the gate, there was only one seat. Disheveled, I sat down. Immediately, I noticed the really (really) old man beside me and thought, he can't possibly be here alone—I bet I just took someone's seat. He's so old. He can't be doing this alone. I turned to him and said, "Is someone sitting here?"

"Yes. You."

"Good. I thought maybe someone was beside you."

"No one is beside me. No one has been beside me. That seat has been vacant for a very long time."

And then he started to cry. 

And I just sat there. He stopped crying. I sat there until we had to board. And then I sat next to him on the plane. We did not speak. For a little while, through the oval window, I could see the Atlantic Ocean below me.

We did not speak. Then the sun went down and the clouds were red and orange. Then it was dark and I could not see anything. I sat beside him. He had his hands in his lap and might have dozed off for a few minutes. We did not speak. Descending, I could see the lights of the city. He shuffled his feet back and forth. We did not speak. Not for 2 hours. 

When we landed and got to the end of the walkway leading from the plane, we still did not speak. But he put his things down. And he gave me the longest, sweetest hug and said, "Thank you. Thank you for sitting beside me.”

It was the first time in two days that I have felt good about who I am, where I have been, and where I am going.

I should have been the one thanking him.

I love you, Dad. Goodnight.”

TwochairsFirst of all, that’s one lucky Dad that his daughter writes him such emails. And one lucky daughter, that she has a dad who reads them and who, I imagine, holds her up when she needs it—who no doubt sits beside her when she is feeling vacant, as it were.

What I saw in Amy’s story was that we all—in some significant ways—have an empty seat beside us. We are, all of us, vacant in some way, with a void that needs filling, even wordlessly, especially wordlessly. Sometimes, we don’t need people to fix us, but just be with us. Who are we there for in this way? Who is there for us in this way? Not to fix, but to be.

Sometimes, vacant is how we feel when we are being who others expect us to be, not who we really are. Sometimes, vacant is how we feel when we don’t know who we are.

V is for vacant. Sit in the empty seat. And if you’re the one with the vacant seat beside you, clear off your bags and open the space. Magical things might happen, like a two-hour, silent vigil that buoys you, holds you afloat, makes you feel like you have some company on this magical and scary journey home.

At the end of that journey, give a sweet hug—either literally or figuratively—to let your angel know. It might be that the ride was just as important for them.

[Photo from here]


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It looks really, really beautiful. I feel as if I just got a really great haircut. You know, someone cuts and styles your hair in a swank salon and you think, "Really? Is this really my hair? Because my hair does not look like this at home. In the morning. When I have to get ready to be in public. My hair does not do this."

Consider yourself a master. Thank you so much for styling my words.

Amy D McCracken

To both Patti and Amy...thank you for these beautiful words. Reading it felt as though someone came and sat in a vacant seat beside me.

This one made me cry. And it's making me think of all the moments in the last few days when I have felt most like myself in my workplace...and they're the moments when I was simply reaching out to talk to or help someone in an unexpected way...all of those things that aren't 'my job.' Why is it often so very hard to simply BE with each other?

Thanks to both you and amy for sharing this incredible message:

"Sometimes, we don’t need people to fix us, but just be with us."

I think not only of the times this would have helped me but i think we've also had those times when our instinct was to sit with someone but we were afraid of seeming strange.

"silent vigil" ...

Hi, Patti and Amy - Thanks for this terrific collaboration - Patti, you have an amazing gift for seeing a story and pushing it. I cried at this one - the picture, the email and the words - touched me very deeply and give me lots to think about - where and what is empty?

When my sister was in the second grade she misunderstood her teacher and insisted that she had to learn the alphabet backwards. It was tough but she did it. Your alphabet posts are wonderful - I am not looking forward to Z - so - have you ever considered turning around and working yourself BACK to A.

Just a thought. Hugs, Ellouise

Dear Sir,

My Name is Roger Dickerson and I am Amy McCracken's Dad. I want to thank you very much for sharing your encounter with Amy. If you would come to know her you would realize what a "Special" person she is.
Thank you.

Ellouise! What a wonderful note - you really made my day - and your question of "where and what is empty" is so magnificent...I love explorations of "space" and "place" and it is such a wonderful question in regard to those concepts... I *love* the story of your sister's backward alphabet ("it was tough but she did it") and in her honor, who knows what might happen when I reach Z! (My only trepidation is "X"....). Thanks for your wonderful note!

Oh, so beautiful. Some of our smallest gestures are the most meaningful.

So lovely and so very true...

I am Amy's step-mom...but I like to think of her as my "Bonus-Daughter"!!! I have always gotten so much pleasure out of anything she writes. There are days when I open my email and there she is...the subject line may simply say Monday, but a word or two or three later she has made my day. Her email to her dad was amazing and I am glad so many others are able to benefit from her insight. I am very proud of her and I am blessed to have her in my life!!!

Everyone has a story; thanks to all who contributed to this one. If we took the time to listen, really be present with each other, what a wonderful world this would be. =)

You have filled my empty seat today. Thank you.

Tears flowed when I Read this.
Now this is real life and I am so glad that you and Amy have found a connection through your blog.

This is what it's all about.
Thank you, Patti.
Thank you, Amy.

Amy is my cousin and I love her fiercely but I believe I'm still as unbiased as one who loves one's cousin can be. As you can tell by that convoluted sentence I'm nowhere near the writer she is. She has written me several e-mails and letters that just take my breath away.
I'm thrilled to see her share her talent and bare her mind and soul. I know it's difficult but it's worth it to all who get to read her words.

I'm so proud of her for so many reasons. Way to go, Amos!

this is why I read your blog--you always find the words to say just the right thing! I needed to hear this today

Patti, I just love it when you make me cry. Amy, thank you for living into your gifts.

We readers are lucky to have such wisdom and grace right here where we can revel in it.

And maybe learn.

Priceless. Thank you so much for sharing this. I am moved in a way that makes my day sacred.

My father, who is 80 and still finding his way alone in the world two years after my mom died, is flying on Monday. He is not looking forward to it. This post inspired me to write him some thoughts on air travel -- the inherent BS of it and how if you just sit back and observe, rather than allowing the hullaballoo take you over, you get where you're going and you also get some good reading in. May the people who sit next to him on his journey be the caring, sharing kind.

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