Monday, November 29, 2010

A New Chapter

In the six weeks after Mr. N died, I have to confess that at first I was relieved, not just for the cessation of his suffering, but for my own 'freedom' to go through a week without seeing him.

But if I was busy enough to need the time, I was not so busy that I didn't notice the void his passing had left. It's not a void of the painful type, which I know all too well, but rather the absence of the calming influence that this mission, if you will, has effected in my life. It's selfish, really. In those moments being with and dealing with others I am lifted out and away from my own self perceived miseries and find that I have, in fact, very few of of those miseries indeed.

This is not to say that my life seems so much better when compared to the dying, because if I can't say that I'm not trying hard enough for sure. Instead, it is the feeling of being outside myself, engaged with someone I don't know in a relationship that is meaningful to us both that I seek.

Yesterday began a new chapter in that story.

I met 'Buddy' B at his home in South Austin yesterday morning. He is 90 years old and rail-thin like me. He has bright blue red-rimmed eyes and a ready smile. He is very frail, of course, and a bit hard to follow in a conversation, but nowhere near the garble that I used to share with Mr. N.

At first, we talked about where I lived, worked and why I'd come. Then, I asked what he'd done for a living. He worked in the Piggly-Wiggly (long defunct in Austin but thriving elsewhere in the south) here in Austin for many years. He went to Austin High, which means that we share something already, but I am not sure if or how much of this he'll remember in our subsequent conversations. He was very pleasant to talk to and even a little funny. When I asked what he'd done in the grocery business, he replied "Not much!" He likes football and follows the 'Horns but said that he has to watch whatever is on the TV, which he noted with some dissatisfaction was "on all the time." I don't doubt him--while I was there, it was on some sort of a music channel, just playing Christmas music in a loud and seemingly endless loop.

I will learn more about him in the coming weeks and months, I am sure. He's old and frail but not ill or actively dying yet, and it looks as if it may be many months or even years before that happens.

I'm looking forward to this new relationship, not least because of the place where Buddy is staying. It's a home in South Austin, just off Slaughter Lane near our house. The home is similar to the one I managed to find for Lynda at the end of her days, privately owned and operated under a license from the State. These folks are young and friendly and I have to say that when I walked in, it smelled good! Not just ok, but actually good. They were preparing lunch for the residents--five or six in all--right in the open kitchen area behind the living area.

Buddy sat on the couch next to a man who didn't talk or even acknowledge me, but as I pulled up a chair next to the couch, the two ladies in wheelchairs at the kitchen table couldn't help but hear us talking and watched us the whole time. At one point, I turned to acknowledge them and as I left, I got to thinking about how this was going to be a much more interesting and pleasant experience than the anguishing and solitary visits I had for Mr. N for so many months. At Buddy's home, they are actually caring for the residents, with good food, a caring attitude and lots of smiles, which they shared with me. Of course the residents are old, but here they didn't seem so resolutely unhappy. It is amazing how far a little kindness--and good food--will go.

I left with the smile they gave me on my face. I like 'Buddy' and being a part of this new 'family'.

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