Preface. The Veatch Clan does not often frequent theme parks. While we have nothing against Mickey, Harry Potter, or Shamu, visiting once every five or ten years is usually enough to satisfy our appetites. Yesterday’s trek to Disney’s Animal Kingdom in honor of Sam and Heather’s September birthdays, our first theme park since Harry Potter’s World cast its spell on the world in 2010, was a great choice. It had something for everyone, from Jack, our 14-year-old-family-fun-skeptic, to Heather, our daughter-in-law-in-waiting who is the embodiment of laughter and joy and fun. It had African animals. It had roller coasters. We were stoked.
Side note 1. The longer I shuffle along in this journey called life, the more I steadfastly believe that there are no chance encounters. If one truly looks at everyday through the lens of purpose, one cannot help but see randomness as anything but. A day at a theme park. A great family day. A woman called Mercy. None of this was chance.
Side Note 2. Nathan, our 17-year-old, never meets a stranger. Never. He will chat up anyone, anywhere. He has the gift of making strangers feel like long-lost friends. If I’m not careful I can find myself thinking, “Nathan, give it a rest” – that is until my mom reminds me that perhaps he got his chatty side from me.
Introduction. Heather and I walked into the gorilla compound, finally catching up with the men who’d moved ahead. Standing in front of the glass enclosure were Jack, Nathan, Sam, Chris (Sam’s dear friend and mentor), and Devan, all conversing with a beautiful woman. Mercy. Mercy, a Kenyan by birth, the descendent of Masai and Kisii parents and grandparents, a woman who had come to America for opportunity. Nathan, true to form, had struck up a conversation with Mercy, telling her that he, too, was Kenyan by birth. He introduced her to his brothers and dad and they were deep in conversation when we approached. Mercy looked at me and said, “Mama?” We all laughed as I confirmed that yes, I was the mama of this motley crew. Heather was introduced as engaged to the “first-born-son” and we smiled as Mercy reminded us that in Kenya an educated woman like Heather would be worth several cows as bride price. She reminded Devan and me that we were getting off easy.
Main Body Paragraph. Then Mercy went further. Almost asking permission, she began to speak aloud her thoughts of us as a family.
To Devan. “You are the head, the patriarch. You set the example. Your sons see you and will follow your tracks even though now they may seem reluctant to do so. Stand tall. You are a good man.”
To Sam. “You are the firstborn. When your baba is no more, you will step into his shoes. Your younger brothers will look to you for direction and support. Nathan and Jack, they need you. You are soon to be the husband to Heather. Love her well. Someday you will be wise to raise your own children as your parents have raised you.”
To Nathan and Jack. “You are blessed. Your family chose you. They welcomed you and now hold you close. Be wise to listen. Be wise to learn. Look to your parents for guidance. Look to Sam for guidance. Look to each other; you need each other more than you know. Grow to be men of character.”
To Heather. “You are becoming a part of this family. You will love these people as your people. You are to be a part of them. Embrace them all.”
To me. “Mama Sam. You are blessed. Bask in the love of your husband. Bask in the love of Sam and Nathan and Jack, your strong sons. Embrace Heather as your daughter. Know you are smiled upon.”
To Chris. “You are not to be left out. You are the friend. You must have Sam’s back. You are to be his support. You will stand with him at his wedding as a witness to his commitment to Heather. You are important.”
Reflection. During this entire time not one other Animal Kingdom guest approached. That small alcove became more. It was just us. It was just Mercy, paid to share interesting animal facts with thousands of nameless visitors, but choosing to speak almost prophetically to this family whom she’d just met. It was me, tears pooling as I thought of the weight of her words and knowing that they were true. Nathan and Jack needed each other, in spite of their current propensity to speak cuttingly and hatefully to each other. (How did she know?) Devan was wise and good. Sam had found Heather, a woman of honor and intelligence and joy; Heather had found Sam, my son, a man of wisdom and commitment and love. Chris represented all those who have walked alongside Sam and Heather, supporting and encouraging them. More than chance. More than random. Meant. To. Be.
Conclusion. When Mercy stopped speaking, we all felt it. We had been blessed by this stranger. Chris offered to take a picture and as we posed, Mercy insisted that one of her colleagues act as photographer as Chris was a part of the family, too, and needed to be in the photo. We smiled. The moment was captured. It was time to move to the next exhibit.
Afterward. Mercy gave me her email address so I could forward a copy of our group photo. When I write I will tell her how much her words soaked in and blessed me as a wife, a mother, a mother-in-law, a friend. I will ask that we keep in touch. I will thank her for her random act that was actually not random at all.