Today was not a good day. It wasn’t even a mediocre day. Today was one of those days when waking up became mistake number one. Getting up was number two. Between medication problems, work frustrations, and overall unhappiness with my day, I just wasn’t in the head space to be human to anyone. That said, I took myself to Hastings, ordered a coffee and a bagel, and sat down to enjoy a moment of solitude…
…until some strange, 67-year-old woman asked if she could join me.
Dark and wrinkled like a raisin, she smelled like typical grandma-smell does. She looked frumpy and frail as she lowered herself in a chair next to me. Wanting to avoid conversation, I looked around the store as I ate my bagel in silence. Essentially, I pretended she wasn’t there.
Then she started talking.
At first, she asked simple questions. How about this heat? Do you think they have any blueberry bagels left? I made noncommittal noises and tried to politely be left alone, but then she started to tell me about her day. About her visit to the old folks’ home to see some friends. About her recent hospital trip and a new spot on her lungs and heart. About her eleven children, the youngest as old as my mother. About her job as a substitute teacher, and her fears about retirement. As her story unfolded, I found myself turning to face her, my interest sincerely peaked by her ramblings.
I could feel what she felt. Her joy at being a great grandmother, many times over. Her frustration with the youth of today, and their parents. Her fear about not being able to pay her rent, especially if she retired. We shared. I told her about my experiences working at Hastings, about my hopes for my future children, about appreciating the opportunities I had from being an Armybrat while disliking the moves (just like her children). As we sat and talked, our conversation spun over a vast range of topics. Mostly, I let an old woman use my ear to ease a little of the loneliness she feels when she goes home to watch old westerns by herself.
Two hours passed unnoticed.
She’s older than my grandmother, black, Christian in a way that warms the heart, and deeply southern. I’m a young white girl from the West coast who dances under the full moon each month. When she left, I realized that we never exchanged names. We shared laughter and fears, hopes and angers. In a way, we both had an unvoiced need for a kind ear… and we ended up answering each other’s need at that little, rickety cafe table. I find myself both awed and humbled by the connection I found with a woman who I could be no different from unless she were born on Mars. I thank the Gods for the opportunity to Listen, fully and truly.