Lessons from Cora

Each Sunday I pick Cora up and take her to church. I’ve gotten to know Cora in little ten minute segments because that’s about how long it takes to get from her house to the church.  So I’m not going to pretend that I know a lot about Cora’s life, but sometimes you don’t need to know a lot.  This is what I do know. 

Cora is Native American.  She was the oldest child in her family and as such she had a lot of responsibility growing up.  Her parents expected her to run the household and care for her siblings.  She got to spend summers with her grandmother and her grandmother taught her how to cook.  She loved the summers because she was able to be away from her family and the responsibility there and she loved her grandmother.  Cora’s father was sexually abusive.  Cora’s mother did not protect her from this.  Cora liked to dance from when she was young up until just a few years ago.  She now laments the lack of strength in her legs and believes if she could have continued dancing they would still be strong.  Cora was married more than once.  These marriages had various problems.  I suspect some if not many of her romantic relationships were abusive.  But Cora knew how to love.  Once she told me her biggest regret was ending a relationship with a man, who she considered a good man.  She learned that he had died this past year and she mourned him even though he passed away more than a year prior to her learning about it.  She married the last time just a few years ago but ended that marriage because she didn’t want to be controlled.  Cora has two children.  Her daughter is in her 50s and lives homeless in our city.  Her son is estranged from her.  Cora likes to shop.  She is very generous with herself and with her friends.  These are the disjointed things I know about Cora. Here is why I want to be like her:

  1. Cora is resilient.  She was dealt a tough hand.  From what I can guess, she also made some choices that put her in some tough situations.  But she has not been deterred.  She looks back on her life, which includes a time when she lived homeless with her child, with gratitude and joy.
  2. Cora stays open.  At age 71, Cora continues to look for love where she can find it.  Most recently she had a date with a bus driver, where they shared his lunch on his break.  She has lived open to opportunities for joy and happiness.
  3. Cora is true to herself.  She’s made some choices that could be called mistakes but as she talks about them, she presents them with confidence.  More than once I’ve heard her say, “I did what I wanted.” And she did and she continues to.  I think this is what makes us feel truly alive. 
  4. And finally, Cora loves.  Keep reading…

On a morning when I really needed it, Cora got in my car with a beaming smile.  She reported she had found her daughter.  Her daughter, who is in her 50s, has been living homeless for several years.  I don’t know much about her daughter, but I do know she has been abusive, to Cora in the past and she struggles with drug addiction.  Cora had not seen or heard from her daughter for three years even though they live in the same city.  She was at the trolley station and saw someone.  She wondered, “Is that what my daughter would look like now?” Sure enough, it ended up being her daughter.  She described how they ran to each other and embraced.  She marveled at, “How good she looked!” although she was missing all of her front teeth.  They chattered away updating each other on their lives.  Cora said she gave her some money and offered for her to come stay with her for the number of days her lease would allow a guest. Her daughter declined and they parted ways.

Before I had gone to pick up Cora that morning, I was journaling about the abyss.  I actually wrote, “Does God love me even though?”  I had been through a serious shame experience the night before and it shook me.  But as I heard Cora tell her story to me, her love for her daughter was tangible.  It was so plain and strong and unconditional.  She was simply delighted to have had this brief contact, to know that she was ok.  It felt like a window into God’s love for me.  A realization that God is always reaching for me.  That no amount of imperfection or wandering can change that.  It was like direct response to the question I posed that morning. It was a resounding “YES!”  I am loved. I am enough.

And so I’m very thankful for my 71 year old friend who teaches me, in ten minute segments, how to love and trust myself and share that love with others.