One night during my chemo tenure, I attended a performance of the “Mystical Arts of Tibet” presented by a group of visiting Tibetan monks.  In the audience was a woman I had seen earlier that day at the sand mandala closing ceremony.  On both occasions, her beautiful hat caught my eye.  Sporting a bald head, I instinctively gravitated toward interesting head gear.  I decided to inquire.

“Excuse me, ma’am, where did you get your hat?”

She’d found it in one of our local shops.  That day or the day before.

“It’s really nice.  You see, I’m doing chemo and I’ve lost my hair and – ”

She interrupted.  “I know.”

We paused.  Then she took off her hat and extended it to me.

“Would you like it?”

“Uh –” I stammered, thinking immediately that this is not what I intended.

“Here, take it.  I can always go and get another one.”  And she handed me her hat.  With a mixture of surprise, embarrassment, humility, and gratitude, I accepted.

Her eyes filled with tears.

“I’ve just been through this with my partner.  And I almost lost her.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay; she’s better now.”  And then looking right at (or rather through) me, she directed, “Get better.”

“I am,” I nodded reassuringly (whether for her or me, I am not so certain).

Her tears brought shyness and she looked away.  For how much can you reveal to a stranger?  And what need be said, anyway?

“Thank you,” I said quietly.

Another moment passed, and I gently inquired, “What’s your name?”

Once more she looked at me and this time shook her head, silently waving me on through her tears.  As if it didn’t matter who she was or who I was.  That conventions of name and form unnecessarily hampered this slice of impermanence.  That our moment here together touching raw truth was the only thing of any import.

Honoring her request, I returned to my seat with her (now my) beautiful hat – and a head full of wonder.  For the gift this woman bestowed on me that evening generated much more than just protection for my bald skull against the late autumn chill.   From her I learned that pain shared opens doorways and that one’s disease may help another heal.  That compassion and love need no words to explain them.  That beauty quadruples when we release it.  That true generosity has no source here.  That the warp and weft of our intertwining lives yields a tapestry far more magical than anything we could ever imagine as individual threads.  For all this warmth enfolding the cold hard edges that sometimes life carves, I bowed then and still now – safely enveloped in humility, gratitude, silence and awe.