There is a hand, held in my own. It’s the only hand I need right now. I grip it, probably a little too hard, feeling the force of a human connection powering through me, strengthening me. I am giving birth. And the hand belongs to someone I don’t know. A woman. A midwife. I forget her name, I think it begins with ‘L’. Leah... Lisa... Leigh? It doesn’t matter. What matters right now is that I need her and she is there for me, completely.
After I had my son, I sent chocolates to the maternity ward to thank everyone, including that midwife. And then, life moved on, as I’m sure it had for her by the time I’d left the delivery room and the next woman in labour had been wheeled in. But I won’t forget her. Because for those few hours, I loved her. And that will stay with me forever.
Midwife ‘L’ got me thinking about the people that make an entrance into our lives, stage left, and only stay for a scene or two, but their presence is powerful, and their impact on the plot often profound. These are the people we briefly love. They are there at the turning points in our lives and can have as much impact as those characters who are around for years. Often, like my midwife, they are people who, although just doing a job, are doing it with memorable compassion.
In the last few weeks of my father’s life I loved briefly again, this time a nurse at the hospice where he was staying. I don’t remember her name either, but her hand on my arm as I left my father’s room, on the day when I knew I’d said goodbye, was so warm, and such an invitation to release the flood of tears that tightened my chest until I could barely exhale.
So release it I did, in a room at the end of a corridor, for what could have been hours. She let me tell her everything, and she understood how I felt, because she’d seen it so many times before. She didn’t care how much snot I seemed to be emptying out in her company, some of it on her shoulder. As I howled, she tucked a piece of hair that got in my mouth back behind my ear. And, most of all, she made me able to walk out of the door, knowing I’d done and said all I could.
A year later, we moved house and my children left the little nursery they’d been going to since they were babies. Teachers had come and gone – but my son Jake’s, Margaret, had become special. They had a real connection – I know she adored him, and he her. They shared the same birthday and she was delighted to learn that Jake, once we moved, would be going to the same school that she had years before. If I added up the times I’d seen her it wouldn’t amount to a day. A drop-off here and there, a parent’s evening.
But she cared for my child, and I cared for her because of that. I always talk of Margaret to Jake, and remind him of the happy classroom she ran. On the last day, when I collected him, hastily bought chocolates in hand (there’s a theme here...), she took me aside, bundling a package into my bag. ‘I’m not meant to but...’ she trailed off. It was, I discovered later, a much-wanted Lego set for Jake. ‘He is a star: I won’t forget him,’ she said, ineffectively brushing tears away with her sleeve. And I hugged her with more affection than I’ve felt for some boyfriends.
But these people that we briefly love don’t have to be from caring professions. Think back to the woman who wordlessly gave you a tissue, and helped you pick up the contents of your handbag after that fight with your ex on the station platform. Or the stranger who held your hand and helped you through the last mile of a marathon, when you thought you couldn’t keep going. Or the woman in the doctor’s surgery that afternoon, who walked your newborn baby up and down the room while you dealt with your toddler’s meltdown, and turned chaos into order in the space of five minutes. When you thanked her, she whispered, ‘It gets easier’... and the thing was, it already had. These people are game-changers. They make you feel such strong emotions, and sometimes even take the plot of your life in a new direction.
I hope I’ve been briefly loved by someone. But just in case I haven’t, it’s something I’ve decided to work on...