Surprise and Delight


Recently I was in New York City for a few days with my twenty-two year old stepdaughter Kate. She is tall, loving and gorgeous. But she is also at a time in her college career where what comes next is both a bit scary and unknown. Though an outdoor adventurer, lately Kate has been in need of a little confidence and inspiration. My idea, through the initiation of a friend, was to go on a typical New York bonding trip--a whirlwind of shows, museums, dinners and lots of new and different people.

On day three, after hauling Kate to yet another “art experience” (which featured a 78 year old woman’s honest but naked self-portraits) she was tired, cranky and more than a little over-whelmed. I was feeling under appreciated and doing my best to be enthusiastic…but truthfully, the question of whether this had been a good idea had entered my mind more than once.

After lunch, I excused myself to go to the restroom. The unisex bathroom was classic SoHo…a mixture of obscenity, strange offerings and scratched out advertisements. But there to the right of the sink was a small yellow Post-It that had been placed low and out of the way so that I didn’t at first notice it. It said, “You are loved” in bright red ink. I was touched. Someone in the middle of the most impersonal of places had managed to catch my attention in the deepest personal way. The note made me smile, shook me from my funk and gave me a little lift. I took a deep breath, dried my hands, and went back to Kate.

Making conversation a few blocks from the restaurant I started in. “You know what I love about New York?” I enthusiastically exclaimed. “You find the most interesting things in the public bathrooms. “It fascinates me. I just found a Post-It note in our restaurant’s bathroom that said…”

Before I could finish my sentence, Kate grinning from ear to ear pulled a stack of Post-It notes from her pocket. Clutching them in her smooth fingers, she carefully held them up. They all said the same thing…“You are loved”. She was the author.

Unbeknownst to me, this has been one of Kate’s responses to the global crisis of hopelessness. She has for years gone around putting these Post-It notes in public places, awaiting unsuspecting people like me to discover them. In this case, however, she got to see the impact of her “You are loved” installations. That I was the recipient of her work was an added bonus. She did not do it for me. She just did it at the beginning of the meal because she was so inspired, and I happened to have found it at the end.

It takes a lot to genuinely surprise me, but in that moment I was more astonished with delight than I could ever remember. Kate looked about as proud and happy as I had ever seen her, and the rest of our time together was smooth, relaxed and laughter filled. The trip ended as I had hoped--magical and memorable.

I am left today thinking about the importance in our lives of surprise and delight. How so much of it comes from a heartfelt showing of love, without a need for reciprocation or even ownership. In the end, even the smallest olfaction can create an opening, a moment of grace. And after, everything is different.