I can't see Auras, nor do I claim to be an empath, yet Miss Nora's spirit was so tangible you could feel yourself becoming relaxed and cheerful moments after meeting her. It was something about her bright smile, tiny, birdlike frame and chipper, almost nonstop conversation that made you want to be friends with her. Actually, scratch that. It made you feel as though you were already friends with her.
Miss Nora would come to the store a mere twenty to thirty minutes before we closed and stay long afterwards. For weeks and weeks this happened almost every night until one of our managers reluctantly asked to her leave at closing.
"I don't mean to be a bother," she said to me later, "it's just that my husband passed away right around Christmas time. It was always our favorite time of year. He would decorate for weeks, I would bake for weeks—we just loved it! Seeing all of the neat things in your store makes me think of him and how he would like to be planning for Christmas."
I was crushed.
She continued to stop in the store quite often, and always made it a point to find me and to chat briefly. Once she knew I had originally studied music, she never failed invite me to come sing with her in her church choir before wishing me a good evening.
One night after closing my store, I ran into her while I was buying groceries elsewhere.
"Where are you from anyway? Did you move here for school?" She suddenly asked me.
"Well that is a big complicated." I gave her the polite, short story of my haphazard career in life.
"You never know how life is going to play out. I studied music too. Though I did get a teachers license, I didn't really think I would teach that much. Do you know it was much different back then; there weren't many music teachers in public schools. It wasn't until that math teacher started cussing all the time about the special needs children that couldn't pass her class that I was even really noticed a problem with our schools. She wasn't helping these few kids, I thought I should try. We didn't have training back then like you do now..."
For twenty minutes I stood there in the fresh produce section stunned to hear her story. She was looking at me, but her eyes were seeing the faces of many Down Syndrome, Autistic, and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome children she spent her life for. She told me of fighting to be allowed to give them cotton to place in their ears because the other teachers refused to believe some were being traumatized by the loud fire drills and band music. She grew misty-eyed talking about about finding a craft project that one student could finally do himself. She spoke of the struggle to broaden one little girls scope of music beyond playing "The Muffin Man" over and over—even though she was the one who, using the colors and shapes, had succeeded to teach her to play at all. When she told me about the little boy who had to be led away from the class room for lunch and would stare longingly back at her asking for more "Music? Piano? Music?" I wanted to hug her for the innocent lives she had poured love, respect and value into.
"Well I am sure we have been talking long enough here, you better get your things and go home and rest after your long day at work. Listen, I like you. If you ever need a surrogate mom, I'm here for you. You should come sing with me in the choir sometime. You have a good evening ok?"
With a wave of her tiny hand she was gone done another isle. I stood there stunned by the unsung hero who had been in and out of my store so many times—and I knew I wanted to honor her efforts the only way I could: Here is a toast to Miss Nora and all those like her in our world. You have made the world a better place with your spirit, and I intend to pass it along to every person I can. Thank you.