[guest post by Dana]
Taking a break from the political news of the day, I wanted to tell you about walks with Mary. It’s always good for me to step away from the chaos of the world, back to real life , you know, where we live.
Mary is my elderly neighbor. Up until this summer, she had been an active and lively resident of our neighborhood. Tiny like a little bird, and capped with white cotton puff hair, she would scurry about feeding her cats in her open garage, drive to the neighborhood market in her big red Buick, and chat with neighbors. Then, without warning, she disappeared from sight. We discovered she had become a shut-in. Out of the blue, her legs no longer obeyed the command to walk. The outside world threatened to become a memory as her world became confined to the four walls of her home. Her family arranged for a caretaker to come every morning to get her up and help with her personal needs, and then after breakfast, propped her up in her recliner to spend the day in the company of a blaring TV and curtains opened so she could watch her neighborhood pass by until family members brought dinner. Hard of hearing, vision fading, and legs no longer working properly, loneliness set in. How could it not?
Several years ago, I experienced a series of awful physical setbacks, and one of the realities I faced was a period of not being able to walk without the aid of a walker, and without tremendous pain. It was a very dark and lonely time, and it was a daily struggle to remain optimistic that eventually I would be able to walk normally again and come to the end of the dark tunnel I found myself in. It was hell getting there, but through God’s grace, eventually I did.
For a few months now, I have been pushing Mary several miles every day in her wheelchair. Because that’s what you do when you can, and your friend can’t – you push and walk.
While we walk, we talk about the day’s weather, critique gardens, say hello to the pups that we know by name, and of course, chat with any neighbors who happen to be outside. And in between, she repeatedly tells me what a good girl I am to take her out and how much she appreciates it. She says she feels better being in the sunshine again. Who wouldn’t? But here’s the thing, I’m really the one who benefits from our walks. Who could bear knowing their elderly neighbor was essentially trapped in their home? I couldn’t. So we walk. And the best thing about being with Mary is the history she carries with her. The first car she drove was a Willys-Knight. The first election she voted in was Truman versus Dewey. She remembers the years when the rain was unrelenting and the now bone-dry zanjas regularly overflowed and wreaked havoc on the roads. She remembers her boyfriend enlisting in the Army so he could fight the Nazis. And she remembers marrying him when he returned. Mary has also regaled me with stories about our sleepy town, including the 1948 unsolved mystery of a popular high school classmate murdered while on a date with her boyfriend, who was also a fellow classmate and heir to his family’s fortune. No one was charged with the murder that took place on a dark road. There were two suspects: her boyfriend, and according to the boyfriend, an unidentified man with a sawed-off shotgun attempting to rob them. Was there a cover-up? Did his family’s country club status help get him off? And why, some 50 years later when local journalists dug up the story and began looking into it, were they warned to “leave it alone”? According to Mary, townspeople had indeed believed there was a cover-up. Both families went into seclusion behind the walls of their grand old mansions, and rumors of alcoholism and lost fortunes persisted. Mary is a full volume of walking-talking history just waiting to have her pages turned.
For an hour out of each day, the simple pleasure of taking Mary for a walk is mine. This filling the gap is an unglamorous and unremarkable “calling”, and one that suits me just fine. I love that I continue to walk with ease. I love that I can walk for someone else. And I especially love that for at least this season, a little bird can experience the warm autumn sun on her face and still be blinded by a brilliant blue sky before she is called to fly away home.