Friday, July 10, 2009

Our World Shrinks and Grows

Last night three of us sat at a table talking about life. One asked, do you miss your friend who died? Our friend nodded, said Yes, I do. Fred was her neighbor, a man living alone in the trailer he and wife shared after their house burned. His wife had died a few years before. Fred never learned to read or write, and he’d had cancer that had eaten away flesh in his face, later in his mouth. He was a thinker, and a caring man. My friend spoke of how he would come over, check on things when she was gone, at work or away. He would show up to mow the grass, which she paid him for, or just to talk, to be there as she burned brush cleared from the land. He would ask her advice about medical questions, and had no fear of follow up to know more, with his doctor. Once she was home and her car was in the shop. She saw Fred appear in the front yard and walk to the garden. He had a bag and began to pick tomatoes. She watched for a minute, then approached. What are you doing? she asked. Roger wanted some tomatoes, he said, matter-of-factly. I don’t care who wants them, she said. Don’t steal my tomatoes! He heard her, and another day, another way, he related that memory and said, I’ll never steal from anyone again. I learned my lesson!

As we talked, I thought of what it must mean not to read or write, and even not to speak. I remembered when I took literacy training and taught an eager man to read. He was an adult, a family man with his own thriving business. He had hidden his deficit from everyone, including his family. I marveled at the way our minds support us with such determination as we choose. Now he wanted to learn, and he was going to surprise his family, especially his two little daughters who wanted to share their homework with him. As we met at our weekly sessions, I had to think about this gift of words and what it has meant to me too. Some days I was restless and tired after work, and keeping this commitment to him gave me promise of what gifts may come from our human interaction – beyond a paper shuffle and keeping order in a changing world. He would walk in, a little embarrassed at first, removing his baseball cap as he entered the room. When we read a page, he would look up and smile with a light that came from his eyes and a place as deep as he had lived. As we read together, side by side, I felt happy and more determined myself. When we finished our sessions and he was ready to continue on his own, his eyes shone like the little boy he once was. He carried his book under his arm like a treasure, and proclaimed that he was ready to read to his little girls! I cried when we hugged because I felt so happy. He gave me a gift of eternal happiness in that moment.

Our world shrinks and grows as our mind perceives and creates. When Fred lost his driver’s license, his world shrank to a small circumference, and his experience with his neighbors became even more important. My other friend remembered her father and his caring of others. She spoke of sick neighbors, some without the wide circumference of world experience and knowledge that he’d had in his life, and how he would care for them, be sure they had what they needed. I remember my father shaking his head over his changing life as he strained to move from bed to chair with absolute focus and intention. I remember his smile as he looked at us with that light in his eyes, and the way his mouth lifted on one side, the way he sometimes sang, spontaneously, just because he was happy. Our human connection is our most important energy resource, and we must cherish these gifts. Each gift lives as we do, uncovering them, daily, in memories! Thank you, friends for sharing the moments.

2 comments:

Angela said...

What a wonderful post! I am working with a gentleman that reminds me so much of Henry. His gentle way and just many things that seem to bring me to thoughts of your Dad.

M.E.Martin said...

Thanks for your comment, Angela. It made me smile too. Memories live on, don't they, as we do. Ask him to sing you a lullaby. :)