Yesterday my neighbor came over with her lawn mower and cut the grass in my front yard. Then we drank some water and had a chat, a pretty deep chat about “what’s real? Are we real? Why are we here?” Since we’re both 66 years old, it was lighter than the same talk in earlier stages of life. I guess at a certain point part of you is OK with “I have no clue.”
My phone rang. It was my neighbor across the street, the one who hails from Buxton in Australia. I’ve had no appetite for three weeks and most of the time, food is just sickening. It’s the meds, but it’s still not good. “I made you something to tempt your appetite. Meet me outside.”
I went out and she ran across the street (she’s 77 but she can run) “Rhubarb muffins,” she sad, handing me a bag.
“You said ‘rhubarb’.” It’s kind of a joke in my town that I love rhubarb so much. But it’s really one of my all time favorite foods. We giggle. I thank her and come in.
Yesterday was a crappy day. Lots of leg cramps. The feeling it’s NEVER going to get better. As night fell and the cramps got worse, I had to take more meds than I like, but the meds worked and I slept well. Then, morning came with certain urgent imperatives and I got out of bed and walked to the bathroom. The bathroom is right off my room. I did this without thinking about it, without noticing that I had taken neither walker nor cane. I just walked.
But I needed the walker for safety so I had to walk back to my room and get it.
“What happened there?” I thought and tried it again. Wow. Yesterday when I looked at the progress chart of what I could expect this week and next, I scoffed at “Walks short distances without cane, crutches or walker.” But there I was.
Later on, the physical therapy guy came. He’s a strange little person with some parts of the combination plate not missing, exactly, but different, like green beans instead of refried. Something. I haven’t been able to put my finger on it, but as we did my therapy (I asked him today to take my walk with me) he confided that his parents had told him recently that when he was a kid he had meningitis. All the puzzle pieces slipped into place. What he does not have a shred of is imagination or humor. He doesn’t notice when he’s said the same thing twice in less than 5 minutes. But he does his work meticulously and kindly; he’s very good at it. I taught a young man who had suffered similarly as a teenager and that shifted the combinations on his plate, too. He was brilliant working with autistic kids because he couldn’t hurry, he couldn’t joke, he couldn’t do anything threatening to them. He wasn’t capable.
I was struck again by that truth that we don’t know the stories of most of the people around us. I was really glad to hear his story. Glad he wanted to tell me and grateful for the insight. He has two great dogs that he loves and awesome dog stories to share, too.
Then my neighbor texted me about our planned adventure to the store in the big city. I drove because my car is easier and safer for me to get into. We had a lot of fun shopping and joking around and slipping, from time to time, into more serious conversation. When I got home, she helped me with my groceries, planted a tomato for me and took some tomato plants home.
Then I had to take some dog food out to Dusty and Bear and visit them. Lori — who owns the shelter — loves my dogs, all dogs, actually. She let them into the play yard and they were very happy to see me. Lori kept them from jumping on me. We chatted and she said next week she’ll have time to bring them home and take them on a walk with me. They still can’t stay here, but that will be wonderful for all of us. I asked about the bill and she said, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll get that. We’ve had a donation from an anonymous donor.” I was a little puzzled. They’re a business. Why would they get a donation? She read my mind and said, “For you, for Dusty and Bear.”
I may have suspicions, but that doesn’t matter. Whoever it is, I hope I have the opportunity to return the kindness.
I left, drove home toward my pretty town, the green mountains, the fields, the emptiness, the sky with swirling thunderstorms and virga, the whole beauty of this place that filled my heart from the first time I saw it. It’s never been a “place” to me. It has been an entity, almost like a person. I can’t explain it, but I love it. It’s been my “thank you good and faithful servant” for all my years teaching. It fills my heart in every way — the kindness of the people, the harshness of the climate, the wild winds, the beauty of the landscape, the hoarfrost on a -20 degree foggy morning. The tracks of elk in the snow. The sight of a fox in the distance. Every sunset is an amazing event. The cranes!!! I love my friends — I feel completely myself around them and appreciate them so much.
So…as I approached my town, the radio played this song. You have to imagine the “beloved” is the San Luis Valley.