My husband and I celebrated our 30th anniversary last week by spending a few days at a random hotel in a random city in Israel. The hotel mostly catered to tour groups and business travelers, and the city is not one which is a particularly popular tourist destination. We discovered why as we struggled to find enough local activities to keep us entertained for four days. That being said, it was the perfect place to spend a vacation in a relaxed and pleasant atmosphere.
On Thursday evening, we were on our way out of the hotel at around 7:00 p.m. It was raining, and we opted to eat dinner at a restaurant directly across the street from the hotel, thinking that we could dash there and back in between the raindrops. We got into the elevator to go down to the lobby, and just before the doors shut, a woman and a young girl entered the elevator car with us. They were both wearing fancy gowns, and the woman’s makeup looked professionally done. She was wearing a white beaded gown that looked like it could be a wedding gown, but she wasn’t wearing a veil, and she was wearing the type of wig worn by Orthodox married women, so I wasn’t positive that she was a bride. Maybe she was the mother of the bride; I knew that she was a mother because it was obvious from the conversation between them as they stepped into the elevator that the girl was her daughter. All in all, I wasn’t really sure what to make of the situation, but I wanted to acknowledge this woman in the white dress in some way, so I smiled at her and said, “You look very pretty.” She answered, “Thank you” and then she looked at me more carefully and she asked me, “Is your name Judy?”
Well, this was getting really weird. We were in a totally random hotel, in an elevator, she was dressed for a wedding, and obviously she knew me, but I had no idea who she was. I tried to visualize her in her younger years, thinking that maybe she was someone who I knew growing up, but I was coming up with nothing. I had never seen this woman before in my life.
I answered that my name was Judy and she gasped and said, “It’s me! Rachel Gold!” (No, that is not her real name.) I still had no frame of reference as to who this woman was, but she was introducing me to her daughter and telling me that she was getting married in an hour. I was desperately trying to place her. Sometimes people recognize my photo from this blog and come up to me in public places, but this woman obviously really knew me, like we had a personal relationship.
A few seconds later, it dawned on me that the reason why her name was not familiar is because I never knew her last name. I knew her only as Rachel, and I didn’t recognize her in person because we had only spoken over the phone and via text messages. She was the same Rachel who I had been supporting over greater part of the past year through the ordeal of her daughter’s eating disorder. I had spent hours talking to her, giving her advice on where to seek treatment, helping her navigate the difficulties of being the mother of an adult patient over 18 with no legal rights, empowering her to take the necessary action to get her daughter into treatment, and offering lots of validation, encouragement, and support.
Rachel was determined to help her daughter, despite the fact that it wasn’t an easy path. She was one of the most dedicated, intelligent, strong, and intuitive mothers who I have ever guided, and she told me early on that she was divorced and that her ex-husband was not on board with getting professional help for their daughter’s eating disorder.
Since I knew that Rachel was doing this on her own, and that she was really struggling, I kept checking in with her. Whereas many times I only speak to parents once or twice, I spoke to Rachel on a semi-regular basis for an extended period of time, and we got to be friendly. I considered paying a shiva call when she lost a parent a few months ago, but decided that would be awkward since we had never actually met.
During one of our conversations, Rachel told me that she really wanted to start dating, but that she was afraid that it was a bad idea considering the circumstances. I realized that she was looking for validation that she was entitled to move forward with her life despite her daughter’s illness, and I readily gave it to her. She deserved to be happy.
And then, in what would be the greatest coincidence if I believed in coincidences, Rachel stepped into my elevator, dressed in a beaded white gown, on the way to her wedding, radiating happiness. I am so not the type to compliment a complete stranger, and yet I did, which led to a totally unexpected meeting in a totally arbitrary place. I mean, really, what are the odds?
I think part of the answer here is that sometimes, the odds don’t matter, because you just never know. Believe in the improbable and bet on the long shot because sometimes wonderful things happen against the odds, when you least expect it.