It was a hand-embroidered owl cushion.
We talked and talked over dinner the night before the award ceremony. Not only about her beautiful daughter, but also about shared interests, a love of nature, creativity, even Pilates. Last year we had dinner again, as we had invited her to give a talk about her daughter at our conference.
She heard about my situation, found my blog (amazing in itself, as sending an email was a new venture for her when I first met her), and wanted to do something for me.
To think that someone I don't really know that well would spend hours and hours and hours making something for me, sourcing the embroidery kit she remembered seeing, finding suitable material for the back of the cushion, and finishing everything so beautifully (down to the piped edges, the button, the carefully matched fabric halves at the back)... it left me flabbergasted.
There was a touching six-page letter.
"I felt I had made a beautiful connection with you, however brief," it said. "You lead a team who made me feel very special at a time which was very hard in my life. Thank you Irene."
It just goes to show that you never really know how even the most fleeting of connections can touch lives.
She has certainly touched mine with her thoughtful gift. This being a Good Week, I was glad I could phone her this morning, to thank her in person.
Writing this makes me think of John, a man I met through one of my research studies. He had mild intellectual disabilities and died of a particularly nasty and distressing cancer. I spent many hours with him during the months before he died. He knew that he was dying. He talked and talked about his life. One of his most vivid memories was of a passer-by who, when John was briefly homeless and living on the streets, had asked him for directions - and then handed him a £20 note. That passer-by could never have known that many years later, a dying man still felt comforted by his kindness.
So here's to all of you who have bestowed kindness on me. I am touched.
And because of the thoughtfulness of so many of you, I am now surrounded by a growing and very happy parliament of Owls. Who knew they came in so many different shapes and sizes? One friend offered a theory.
"I assume everyone knows about your blog," she wrote, apologising for what she thought was probably my 100th owl card, "and that's why there is so much owl merchandise around."
Personally, I think it's a case of supply and demand. You just keep sending me owls (lovely!) and the shops will keep stocking up.
|The Owl Mug|
|The Owl Scarf|
|Some of the many Owl Cards...|
|...more Owl Cards...|
|...and more, plus a couple of Owl Hangings|