When all this is over, some of the things we used to take for granted will appear to us a novelties or great new ideas.
* * * *
Sometimes I wonder about the elderly couple that my friend and ran into a few years ago. If they are still with us, does the quarantine affect them; for those who were already in a form of social isolation, how has the month of April 2020 felt any different, if at all?
Love is love, no matter what. This fact can feel like a new idea in isolation, a revelation in our current world of video chats and the neighborly refusal to sweat the small stuff when the suffering and loss of others are omnipresent. I want to sweat the small stuff, though, to return to my cranky outlook on life, but I have friends on the front line of this global tragedy. I have family whose acquaintance with loss is renewed each decade or so. Thus, the small stuff remains small—Quarantine Land leads one to thoughts about whether any worry is important or not. Priorities are assembled in a more sensible order.
We saw the couple in a waiting room one sunny November afternoon. My friend’s car was in the shop, and she and I sat in a waiting room to discuss the things good friends discuss in waiting rooms.
An elderly woman, still in her winter coat, sat alone across from us, barking inarticulate sounds to herself. Sometimes, when she would hear laughter in the crowded dealership, she would rock forward, and, with a smile on her face, direct some louder sounds in the direction of the others, as if to participate 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, a highway.
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, when she seemed to notice more laughter from the customers, she would sit forward again and direct another non-sentence at us. The laughter was not directed at her. No one paid her any mind, but no one was paying any attention, either. That caught my attention as much as her babble did.
(I once took an improvisation class and one exercise was to “converse” with another classmate in gibberish. I wanted to sound like Sid Caesar. I was very bad at it because my gibberish sounded too close to actual language. Asked to portray 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 or perhaps was suffering dementia, since her gibberish retained the sound of a basic sentence structure, like my gibberish, 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 he stood directly in front of her. She took his hands, swung them a bit, was happy to see him again. He sat with her. It appeared that she wanted to tell 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 her communication, but we were in a car dealership, after all, so maybe that was what I wanted to say to my friend and this was a projection of my thoughts.
The husband rested his head in his hand for a minute. This was a half-hour of my day, but this was his entire life. I have family members deep in our own version of this anecdote. Both the wife and husband appeared to be in their 70s.
He left again to check on the progress of their car. She continued to talk 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 the request to leave the only home she had ever known, this waiting room, even if she had been there for a total of forty-five 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 one 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 those like my friend and me when we are lucky enough to witness proceedings such as the one 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 loud exit performance.
“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.”
For reasons related to my own family right now and this moment of quarantine, this couple whom we met in 2013 comes to mind a little more often this April 2020.
The WordPress Daily Prompt for April 9 asks us to reflect on the word, “Pair.”
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