Not long ago, I was walking from a store in the downtown area to my truck. As I passed a disheveled, elderly lady pushing a shopping cart, I avoided the urge to quip “I think dairy is in aisle 6.” Instead, I pushed the caustic remark aside and simply said, “I wonder if it will rain.”
She turned slowly, her eyes weary from the less-than-kind circumstances she obviously faced and sought out the person who had spoken to her, as if it were a rarity. Finally, she noticed me, shrugged her shoulders, smiled and winked, “Rain? It may or it may not.” She turned quickly back to the chore at hand, and hobbled away. I watched in silence as she disappeared down the street.
Compassion, of any degree, has a built-in reward system. I was thankful for my softer approach. Unexpected goose bumps flared as I stood silently, taking in the moment. I realized that this wasn't just a lady pushing a cart. She was a person, a human being. It doesn't sound like a big deal, but we all, at times, tend to forget that. I'm as guilty as anyone.
The truth is we don't need a battering ram to touch someone, nor do we need to condescend to make ourselves feel better. Sadly, the virtue of cordiality has been usurped by a survivor mentality that dictates it's all about me … and to hell with everyone else.
Recent history, especially in the political arena, has laid bare just how much pure altruism has been diminished and all but relegated to the trash can. The chance encounter that I had was a wake-up call. I hope I've learned a lesson. That's all I've got on this little chapter in my life. I wanted to share it with you. I'll move on.
• • •
A week ago, our local community suffered a loss with the passing of Joyce Wilson. Joyce and her husband, the late Bob “Pinky” Wilson, were the ambassadors of blue-collar society. Fun-loving, they brightened all gatherings by their mere presence.
Joyce played the yin to Pinky's yang. Not in the good and bad sense but in the broader definition of being complimentary. They fit together like a two-piece puzzle. Bob was the more reserved type while Joyce was a bombastic sort whose ability to filter out what she thought before saying it never existed. To say that she kept things to herself was akin to saying curiosity did not kill the cat.
For instance: Every Christmas, I'd make what I'd call a sausage roll. It consisted of bread dough filled with Italian sausage, pepperoni and cheese. It was a traditional family staple as we gathered on Christmas Eve afternoon.
It wasn't easy to make, especially for me; it was time-consuming and messy. And it had to be made, baked and ready just before the family arrived. Somehow, I got into the habit of also making one for the Wilsons. That was fine, but getting it over to their house just as my company arrived was always a tricky balancing act. But because Pinky was ever so grateful, it was worth the effort. (The man would thank you 10 times if you merely asked him how he was doing.)
Joyce loved the concoction as well. She would count on it as a mainstay to serve her family and friends. But this is how Joyce would thank me, only the way Joyce could: (True story from a recent Christmas.) As I pulled into the driveway to drop it off, she threw the door open and screamed: “VALLEY, WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN? YOU'RE LATE, GODDAMMIT!” Ahh, Merry Christmas, Joyce.
But that was her being her. She was the spicy side of life, the seasoning that brought the flavor out of any activity. Fact is, I'll miss her more than she'll ever know. We all will. For those who knew Pinky and Joyce, their absence leaves a void, a void never to be filled. But how much emptier our lives would have been without them … and so, for their presence, we are grateful.
• • •
Finally, I spent practically this whole summer at the St. Lawrence River. In fact, I'm still there as I write this. The sun has just set on the Canadian side of the river and I'm anxious to get up early again and go out fishing. The first thing I do before I go to bed is watch the weather report to see if my hopes of getting out on the water will come to fruition.
Last night, the weatherman — all spiffed-up in a fancy blue vest, shirt and tie to match and a hundred-dollar haircut — bounced around the set in a jocular manner and reported that there was a 50%chance of rain tomorrow. Hmm, 50%, huh? It sounds vaguely familiar …
“Rain? It may or it may not.”
Alrighty, then. That's the way it looks from the Valley.