She was sitting quietly by herself, facing the window looking out, it seemed, at nothing in particular. A glass of wine cupped in her hands. Nothing obviously out of the ordinary. It was in a bistro where I often write. I became alert to her not by the length of time she sat there but by her clearly sombre mood. So it caught my eye when she went to the counter and returned with a second glass of wine.
“Are you ok?” I quietly asked. A nod of the head was her response. Minutes later tears began to roll down her face. “You’re not ok are you” was my statement more than a question. “No” was her quiet response. She talked…I listened…who knows for how long….her tragic problems pouring forth, releasing pent-up pressures in her mind, heart and soul. She eventually started to relax, even smile a little. I took the chance to lighten the discussion . Her face softened, her eyes shone a tad more brightly and her body eased. Soon a laugh emerged…nothing hearty but genuine and warm.
A friend of hers arrived and they prepared to leave together. She turned to me. It wasn’t her words that made my heart leap…it was her look of soft thankfulness , her head a little higher, her shoulders a little easier, a warmth flowing in my direction. I had not solved her problems one iota - nor, importantly, did I try to do so - but I had eased her pain, even if only temporarily. My contribution was caring, empathizing and non-judgemental. The change in her was of her doing…a new perspective, perhaps a little hope, certainly a new belief in herself that she is indeed a woman of dignity and respect, a person of worth.
I never saw her again. All I know is how powerful , valuable and uplifting that simple, non-invasive question, ”Are you ok?”, can be - as much to the asker of the question as to the person being asked.