Bearing Witness

One afternoon, my friend and I were waiting for her car to be serviced, so we sat in the waiting room to discuss the things good friends discuss in waiting rooms when coffee is being given away.

An elderly woman, still wearing her winter coat indoors, was sitting alone across from us, barking inarticulate sounds to herself. Sometimes, when she would hear laughter, she would rock forward, and, with a smile on her face, direct some louder sounds in the direction of the others, as if she was participating in the joking and merriment. Then she would slump back and the stream of non-language would continue, sometimes in a sing-song, sometimes with a note of fear and anger. Was she alone here? Had she wandered in off the street? That was not possible, as the street was Route 9.

The sing-song was almost alphabetical, “Baa-baa-bah! Daa-da. Ha-ha-hah! Mmm-maa-maa, nnnn-naaa-naa?” There would be minutes of this, and then, on hearing more laughter from the customers, she would sit forward again and direct another non-sentence at us. No one was paying her any mind, but no one was paying any attention, either.

I took an improvisation class once and one exercise was to “converse” with another classmate in gibberish. (Like the late Sid Caesar.) I was very bad at it, or so I thought, because my gibberish sounded too close to actual language. Portraying a traffic cop, my gibberish sounded like, “No nhy NI nulled nou nover?” It seemed to me, a non-doctor, that this woman had suffered a stroke at some time and maybe was suffering dementia, too, since her gibberish retained the sound of a basic sentence structure, but minus any content or context.

Her husband returned from the parts and service counter. “They are almost done, sweets,” I heard him say while standing in front of her. She took his hands, swung them a bit, happy to see him again. He sat with her. She appeared to be telling him about her day, but with her non-words words. Her voice grew louder, took on an angry tone: “Why are we still here?” was my interpretation of what she was saying, but we were in a car dealership, after all, so maybe that was what I wanted to say to my friend and I was projecting.

The husband rested his head in his hand for a minute. This was a half-hour of my day, but this is his entire life right now. Both the wife and husband appeared to be in their 70s.

He left again to check on the progress of their car. She continued talking in her sing-song. When he returned, he informed her that it was time to leave, urged her to her feet, and she grew seemingly angry—at being asked to leave the only home she had ever known, this waiting room, even if she had been there for a total of 45 minutes or so. She used a declarative tone—”Bye-bye-bye-my-my-my-die-die-die”—and even stamped a foot, but then she bent around him to announce, “Bye-bye-bye-hi-hi-hi” to each of us in the room. And then she started to take her coat off to rejoin us. He re-closed it and gently pulled her hood up.

The word “patience” is overused by 40-somethings like my friend and me when we are lucky enough to witness proceedings such as the above. “Such patience,” some would say.

It took the elderly husband three dance maneuvers to get his wife to face the door and walk through it; twice, she walked up to it and then turned back around into the room. He smiled at the room several times; he neither tried to engage any of us nor shrug away his wife’s loudness.

“Patience” does not describe what every waking moment and probably a few sleeping ones are like for this gentleman. There is a better word to describe it.

When they left, my friend uttered that word: “That is lovely.”

I agreed, “That’s love.”

* * * *
This first appeared on my previous The Gad About Town web site and then here in September 2015 and in May.

The WordPress Daily Prompt for August 26 asks us to reflect on the word, “Witness.”

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  1. Judith B. Levine · August 26, 2016

    You bet it is.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. rogershipp · August 27, 2016

    What a beautiful expression of love you were allowed to witness.

    Liked by 1 person

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