Sometimes I feel like the universe secretly hides special moments in our lives and watches with baited breath to see if we are opening our hearts to others around us; it knows that if we open our hearts, these scenes will reveal themselves and make an impact so grand it reminds us of what is truly important in life.
It was midafternoon on August 18th, 2019, when I eagerly boarded the train at Penn Station. I was impatient as the passengers in front of me walked slowly down the aisles. Sure, I was excited to see my best friend of 13 years, but at this moment I wanted to find an empty seat on the left-hand side of the train so I could feel as though I was floating upstream on the Hudson River during this two-and-a-half-hour train ride. I find a perfect seat with a large window and settle in for the ride. While placing my bookbag in-between my feet, I notice an older woman who seemed to be her late 60s walking towards me.
“Is the seat next to you taken?” she asks with a polite smile on her face.
“Not at all,” I reply, shifting slightly to give her more space.
Secretly I was hoping to have the row to myself, but I push that slight disappointment away as I discreetly observe my new acquaintance.
She turns to the two women behind her. One reaches to put her luggage up on the racks above. They both look concerned.
“Are you sure you will be okay?” one asks. A few sequins on her blouse gleam under the florescent lights.
The older woman replies, “You need to stop worrying darling! Yes! I’m fine.”
The other woman explains in a reassuring voice, “We will see you in two days then, alright?”
The older woman’s face seems to melt into a warm smile, her blue eyes tearing up slightly.
“I am looking forward to it. Thank you for this wonderful weekend.”
She gives each woman a long hug before they walk away, both of them peeking back at the older woman while she takes her place next to me before stepping off the train onto the platform.
She looks at me with a small smile on her face, “They worry about me. Those were my daughters.”
“That was really nice how they walked on the train to make sure you would be okay,” I say.
Her smile brightens, “I am very blessed. My name is Elenore.”
From there, we have small conversations here and there. I learn that she was born and raised on a farm in Upstate New York before moving to Puerto Rico. She tells me about her 10 brothers and sisters, and I tell her of my grandmother’s similar upbringing in Vermont. She tells me about the family reunion her siblings have at the farm, which is part of the reason for her travels. Elenore also shares with me her experience last year with Hurricane Maria.
I ask Elenore what made her want to move to Puerto Rico. This question changed the course of our conversation. She pauses for a moment before telling me that her husband grew up there. After he passed away in a fatal car accident, she needed a new start. She explains to me that she married her husband when she was 17. It was love at first sight. They had two children together and were very happy. After only two years he was killed, and the government found her too young and financially unstable to care for her daughters on her own. They were put into the foster care system, and she was left alone. Elenore tells me how empty and heartbroken she felt. She told me that the sun continued to rise, and she questioned each morning why it even bothered to do so. This was when the decision was made to move to Puerto Rico. She met her late husband’s family and found a feeling of love and warmth with them. She eventually found a partner and married him, having a son together.
Forty years later during the second week of August 2019, she received a Facebook message from a young woman named Jessica. Jessica began asking Elenore if she knew a list of specific people. Elenore confirmed that yes, this person is her sister, and that person is her brother. Jessica asked if it would be alright if she called Elenore because she believed she had some important news. Elenore was concerned. She knew scams were out there and confided in her son. Together they placed a call, and this young woman tells Elenore that she believes she is her granddaughter. Jessica had gone on Ancestry.com and tried the DNA test, and it just so happens that Elenore’s niece had done the same. The website had connected these families and changed their future together. It was discovered that Jessica was the daughter of Elenore’s daughter taken from her 40 years ago.
Immediately, plans were made for Elenore to fly to New York City to reconnect with both of her daughters and her newfound grandchildren. Her daughters were adopted together by their foster parents and were both happily married and had children of their own. By some twist of fate, Elenore’s daughter named her daughter Jessica unbeknownst to her that this was the name of Elenore’s mother – her grandmother. Elenore arrived in New York on August 14th, spent four days with her daughters, and was now on the train beside me headed to her family reunion. Her daughters and grandchildren would be driving up in two days to attend the reunion and meet the rest of the family.
I sit beside Elenore in shock. In shock of the loss she experienced, the love she felt, her resilience, the power of technology, and the fact that her life had changed entirely in less than three weeks. I feel honored to sit beside her during such a monumental period in her life. I am thankful that she shared her story with me, and my heart is completely full after hearing this story of reconnection. It is a reminder that we truly have no idea what is in store for our futures.
“You are never too old for life to throw in a riveting plot twist” – Elenore, 2019.
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