From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reader's Choice 20th Anniversary Edition


Happiness is a form of courage.

~Holbrook Jackson

It was hard not to notice her sitting at the table. Not only was she beautiful, but she had a sweet, gentle aura about her.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, motioning towards the man seated next to her. “I didn’t know the Chicken Soup for the Soul author lunch was for contributors only.” I am not sure anyone would have thought twice about the handsome man, who looked to be in his late twenties, except that he was the only man at a table full of women. Like mother hens, the rest of us all reassured her that it was not a problem. We especially didn’t want her to feel bad because it was obvious that her guest had some physical challenges, not unlike someone who might have suffered a stroke. She went on to introduce him as her husband.

I wondered what had happened. They both seemed so young — him, too young to be a stroke victim, and her, too young to be a caretaker. I watched as she lovingly prepared a plate of food for him, watched the way she included him in conversation, checking every so often to be sure all his needs were met. We learned her name was Penelope and that her husband didn’t have a stroke, but suffered several aneurysms that left him physically impaired and with many needs.

“What book are you in?” I asked her.

“Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers,” she said.

“Me, too! What’s your story title? I can’t wait to read it.” I was excited that I already had a copy of the book and vowed to read her story as soon as the luncheon was over. It was hard not to be impressed with Penelope, even without knowing her full story yet. She exuded an air of peace and joy, in spite of what must have been a serious trial in her life.

As the luncheon began to come to an end, Penelope graciously rose from her chair, helping her husband with his cane.

“We need to get home to our son,” she said somewhat apologetically.

A son? All this and they had a son, too? Now I really needed to read her story!

Her story, “A Season to Be Strong,” was in the chapter entitled “Perseverance.” Seeing that she and her husband were still on the long journey of rehabilitation, the choice of perseverance seemed so appropriate. I read Penelope’s story and learned that she and her husband were dancers who traveled the world until they met with a life-altering detour. With a young son at home, she and her husband found themselves on a road neither of them had anticipated — the road to recovery. She now found herself having to step up in ways she never anticipated. But what really made an impression on me was the grace and faith that Penelope exhibited as her life took this unexpected detour.

I have known people who have also faced unexpected life detours but were left feeling bitter and victimized. I, myself, have been forced onto unexpected paths. I wish that I could say I exuded grace, peace and faith during my journey — but often, that wasn’t the case. Often, it was more like sniveling and whining.

I wish that everyone who reads Penelope’s story could have had the opportunity to sit at her table at the Chicken Soup for the Soul contributors’ luncheon. The words in her story are poignant and powerful, but her presence, so filled with peace, was a true testament to faith and unconditional love.

Now when I encounter a roadblock in life and find myself tempted to sit on the side of the road and have a pity party, I think back to Penelope’s story. I think about that graceful woman with a dancer’s body and hope in her eyes. I think about the loving way she cared for her husband. I remember her perseverance and belief that one day her road will lead her to that beach where she will have that lazy day with her husband. I remember and I am inspired to embrace my detours with more peace and faith, knowing that there can be beauty in a change of scenery, if I look for it.

~Lynne Leite

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