One day last week, I drove a friend to her doctor’s appointment. The temperature on my car thermometer read 42 in the garage and dropped ten degrees before I was even out of our street. Going up the highway, the numbers went down…32, 28, 20, 19. Stopping at the library to drop off two books, I figured that was it. Nineteen degrees. Nope. One more. At 18 degrees F, I drove by a female jogger wearing a light jacket, tights and a hat. God bless her, I thought. People on the streets were bundled up and scurrying into stores.
I drove as close to my friends front door as I could. She has to walk slowly and can’t drive. She lives alone, and that is where my head is going today.
Back home, I wondered where the homeless people in the Code Blue shelters go during the day. Library? Panera’s? My husband saw one lying in the tiny lobby of PNC Bank. Why can’t we do something about this? I ranted. Why does our government spend so much on bombers but can’t bother to shelter its people? Why are politicians so hung up on people “not wanting to work” that they ignore billionaires who don’t pay taxes. They don’t want to work either.
We don’t always agree on what the government should do, but we have talked more about it since the pandemic forced us to stay home more. We have found common ground, and even budged a tiny bit toward each other’s point of view. Sometimes when I walk past the room where he is, I feel a surge of love. I hear a woman’s loud voice from his laptop and I know he’s on a Zoom call with the art museum.
“Docent meeting!” I say, waving a hand and he nods, looking away from the screen to give me a smile. I take my coffee upstairs to my office. And remind myself I could be alone, like my friend. It scares me a little. We’ve lost people this year, no one close but it’s a reminder we are not guaranteed a certain number of years. A couple of my friends have lost husbands – heart disease, lung problems – all things that happen as you get older. I don’t want to be preoccupied with guessing when and what we will face. I want to enjoy every minute, but that’s another hard task.
Sometimes I say, “I’m going to be happy before I die if it kills me!” And we both laugh. My lifelong quest for equanimity is a running joke, and a theme in both my books.
My mother’s grandmother shushed her for laughing because the devil might hear her. What a thing to say to a kid, and what kind of woman was that grandmother? Not happy, that’s for sure, proving my theory about a genetic component to my worrying. I lived alone for ten years between marriages. I know I could handle it again. But still, when I feel grateful for Steve, here in our warm cozy house, a little voice reminds me: He won’t always be here. And neither will you. That grandmother’s voice has a long reach.
Life is bittersweet. No government was ever perfect. The homeless, the sick, the poor, are always with us. An old boyfriend once told me, “no one is happy every minute.” I decide to cut myself some slack, to acknowledge my heritage of anxiety. But I can’t help hoping for some lasting message, some big reveal before I’m done. As if I haven’t earned my ticket here unless I show I used it well.
Steve interrupts to ask if the last piece of cake on the kitchen counter is available. “It’s yours,” I say and he chuckles and goes back downstairs.