I immediately felt on my guard and watched her closely. She was my only real competition in the room; I knew it instinctively.
The meeting progressed, and as we discussed a marketing technique that the group wanted my input on, I made a general statement about the aging of America and how it affected this campaign.
She looked up sharply, and proceeded to coldly and analytically tear my statement apart.
It was on.
I felt challenged and embarrassed and I jokingly covered my discomfort through the rest of the meeting. Then I went back to my offices and called around, asking who this woman was and what was the skinny on her “ice princess” act? The responses surprised me.
“Oh , that is just her way when she first meets you. She’s really very nice.”
“She is great at what she does, and when you get to know her, she is so sweet.”
Really? I doubted this sincerely, but tried to keep my mind open since she was a leader in the organization that I was working with on several fronts, and I could not afford to make her an enemy.
Time went on, and we were at several meetings together of several different initiatives over about a year and a half, and one day something extraordinary happened.
She came into the meeting, looking perfect as usual, and when she saw me her face lit up with a smile from ear to ear. Did I mention she is stunning? She had dark, shining hair, beautiful skin and a slim figure to finish out the whole package. Her smile was dazzling and I looked behind me to make sure it was really aimed at me.
“I heard what you and your organization is doing at the schools, and I just wanted to thank you so much for all of the gifts you are giving our children,” she said.
My jaw dropped in surprise, because we weren’t doing anything we hadn’t been doing for years but it evidently had just hit her radar in some new and personal way. I collected myself enough to smile back and respond, and so we began the first one-on-one conversation we ever had.
That conversation evidently melted the reserve that J. surrounded herself with. I never discovered whether it masked shyness, was just her way of being a female professional in a man’s world, or something completely different. She is brilliant and focused and I listened to what she had to say with interest, for although she spoke sparingly, it was always to great effect.
We became casual friends, catching up on family when we saw each other, and reaching past the business relationship just a little more each passing year.
My heart sank last year when a mutual friend told me that several tumors were found in her recent medical checkup and she would be having surgery and chemotherapy.
I sent a spray of flowers when she got out of the hospital, and was surprised that she was so touched and surprised when she received them. She wrote me the most lovely thank you note, and I continued my prayers for her recovery.
I didn’t hear too much the beginning of this year, other than that she was still on leave, but then a couple of months ago our mutual friend told me that the cancer was back. I don’t know why, but I felt this terrible sense of urgency, and so that very day I went out and found a card for her and sent her a note telling her what a special woman she is, and that I was so proud to call her my friend.
I am so glad I did that.
J. went into hospice for end of life care this week, and with her family gathered around her, some time soon she will pass out of this life and into the next.
She is too young, too vital, too excited and involved in the lives of her family and beautiful grandchildren, and has far too much left to contribute. But none of that matters to cancer.
My prayer is that she passes surrounded with love, warmth and the assurances of her faith…That when the Father beholds her, he sees past any reserve she displays and into the beautiful, loving person she is and says, “Welcome, we are blessed to have you.”