I met a lady the other day at the deli counter in one of the local grocery stores. She was waiting for her order and I was waiting in line behind her and we struck up a conversation.
She was a beautiful woman, who looked to be about sixty, tall with silver hair tucked in a loose bun. Her skin was a healthy tan and glowed like a stair railing that had been shined by the hands of time. Her silver eyes were clear and bright, her face etched with character lines; she was fit and a little hippie looking.
We talked about raising kids; she had six scattered across the country and I learned all about their successes and how proud she was and how much they loved her. She told me about her husband who had recently passed away. How sad she had been without him and how she was finally venturing out to live again.
She talked about how sick he had been for many, many years and how he worried about burdening her and that he would offer to go to a rest home where someone else could do the yucky stuff and she could come and visit. She made me cry when she told me how taking care of him every day was just the way they loved each other. She had told him that she was perfectly capable of caring for him, and that she wanted to be with him every minute she could, and then she told me how mad she had been that he would have considered taking that away from her.
She asked me all about my kids and she asked me about my mother, who she didn’t know any more than she knew me and then she told me to be good to my children and love them every day as much as I could because one day before I knew it they would leave me. She told me that I had a good mother, and she could tell because of the way I talked about my kids.
The woman then said something fleeting about her age and her life at this point and something a little self-conscious and female-ish about her looks, so I asked how old she was.
Eighty-one. I know my manners were lacking because it took a minute to gather up my chin off the floor. I told her I hoped that age would treat me as well as it had her, and she laughed with her silver eyes glittering. Belatedly we introduced ourselves and shook hands. Her name was Jane.
And then her roast beef was done, and she turned and walked away.
Just like that, a meeting, a connection, giving and taking and then it was over.
How many times does that happen to us throughout the course of a lifetime? The people who share our lives, who for a time are our supporting cast or we theirs, and then are gone.
There are people who over a period of months or years share our stage, shaping us and we them. Sometimes we know people for 20 years and end up wishing we had only known them for 20 minutes, while others we will never get to know long enough.
And then there are people like Jane w
impact is so strong, their entrance and exit providing such a profound jolt of
awareness that it wouldn’t matter if they played their scene for days or months
or in this case minutes, just having graced the stage improves the whole show.
When I was a little kid my dad used to say, “Rachel never has met a stranger.” And I guess that’s true. There are too many people to get to know to hang ourselves up on ceremony and too often our time together is fleeting.
Tonight I’m thankful for the friends who have been with me for so long. Sammi and Heidi and Suzie and Ronni, who I’ve known since grade school; and for all the mischief we caused and the boys we lived through. I’m grateful for my grown-up friends, the ones I’ve made in the different circles of my crazy life; on the campaign trail, in college, the parents of my children’s friends, and for the more specific, focused time we spend together. Relationships built out of circumstances and commonality rather than neighborhoods and homeroom teachers.
And I’m thankful for Jane. She reminded me of all the people who’ve come and gone in my life, and she reminded me that people often leave before we’re ready for them to and we should love them as much as we can while we have them. I’m glad to have known her.