This morning I was driving home from the gym around 8:30 am and just as I crossed a major intersection, I noticed an older woman walking toward that intersection. That sparked my curiosity-what would a woman her age be doing walking at this time in the morning with a purse and what looked to be PJ bottoms and tennis shoes in a foot of snow. I made my turn at the next intersection and my gut said loud and clear, turn around and see if she needs help. Honestly, I had a full day ahead of me so for a brief moment, I contemplated and then adhered to that still small voice that can get quite loud and turned around.
As I approached her, I rolled down the passenger side window and asked if she needed help or a ride somewhere. She came over to the window and said she was trying to get to the school. I asked her where the school was. I could clearly see that she was confused and not sure of where she was and where the school was. I asked her if she would join me and I would help her get to the school or to someone who could help us. She said, ‘that would be great’ and then went to get in the back seat. At first, I thought that was odd. The door was locked so she came back to the front and got into the passenger seat. I asked her a few more questions about her destination but to no avail, so I said, why don’t we go where we can get some help.
On our way to the police station, I started asking her questions about her school and her family and quickly realized that I was talking to a young lady in this old woman’s body. Then it occurred to me that may have been why she was going to get in the back seat. She was probably in her late 70’s but was talking about her little brother who refused to go to school, even though he was a good boy. She said her mom is a 1st grade teacher and her dad was the one that she most got along with. I asked her if she liked school, and she said she loved it. That’s why she was trying to get there-she didn’t want to miss school.
As we pulled into the police station and after I checked us in, we had more opportunity to converse. I asked her what her favorite subject was, and she responded immediately, science. I said, “how fun.” She laughed and said a lot of people think it’s funny that a woman likes science. I said, “that’s what makes you special,” and she immediately looked me in the eye with the warmest smile…. I felt it to my bones!
She said, I’m getting a degree in science.” I asked her what she wants to do after she gets the degree and she said “teach.”
I said, “that’s exciting-I love to teach, do you want to be a 1st grade teacher like your mom?” And she said, “no, I want to teach higher.”
I said, “high school,” and she said, “no, higher.”
“College?” She said “yes.”
I shared with her that I taught at a University and it was a wonderful experience. She lit up and said she couldn’t wait.
At this point the officer came out and said he could take it from here, however my new friend asked if I could stay. I sensed she felt safe with me and I didn’t wait for the officer to respond, I just accompanied her.
I stayed with her, continuing the conversation after the officer got the information he needed. She shared more with me about her mom and dad and her little brother. She also said she was excited to meet another female that loved learning and teaching as much as she did, and she knew this because I asked a lot of questions! (I was laughing inside about the questions!)
The officer had pulled his car around and came in to get her. She was still talking with me as she put her coat on. After she zipped up, she turned toward me and gave me a big hug and said thank you. My heart melted and I felt such compassion. I told her it was a pleasure meeting her and thanked her for sharing her dreams with me.
I walked away feeling like I just had the most surreal experience. It felt like I was communicating in a different dimension. But what really hit me, was this skill we practice in coaching, ‘meeting our clients where they are’ was a gift to me today. I met this beautiful human being where she was. It didn’t matter that she had a 75? year old body. It didn’t matter that she had a labelled disease. It didn’t matter that in this dimension she was lost. Where she was with me, today, was a place of ‘the whole world in front of her, a place of dreams and aspirations.’ And that excited me as much as it does with my clients. What a gift to ‘converse’ this lovely woman to safety.
It also served as a powerful reminder that when we meet our anyone, our clients, our friends, our co-workers, our loved ones, where they are, we are creating a safe space for exploration, continued dialog and incredible connection. It is the ‘being’ state that is so powerful. So much can happen when we completely remove expectation and judgment and just be in conversation. Meet people where they are.
The officer was kind enough to follow up with me and let me know that in fact, she had a husband, is suffering from Alzheimer’s AND was a science teacher….her dreams were realized!