Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Grace on Growing Old

Three middle aged women sat at a table in a small cafe enjoying their monthly 'ladies who lunch' occasion.  They had been doing this for ten years and they were a close knit group.  

" You  know, Rachel still goes and visits her mom every day.  Can you believe that?"  said Debbie.

"Her mom???  Rachel is 80!  You mean she goes to the cemetery?"  Edith said

"No, she visits her mom.  Her mom is 102!"  Debbie said

"Oh isn't that wonderful!   She must be so happy to still have her mother."  Edith said sadly.  She had lost her mother  5 years ago and the pain of missing her was with her every day.

"Ugh!  I can't imagine living that long.  No thanks"  thought Grace.  But when the table fell silent she realized she had said it out loud.  That had been happening a lot lately. 

"What?"  she said

"Grace, are you okay?? "  Debbie , a self proclaimed nurturer, looked at Grace with her best "I'm here for you" face.   She put her hand on Grace's.

"Of course I'm okay!"  said Grace feeling uncomfortable at being the focus of the attention at the table.  "Why wouldn't I be?"

"Well you just basically said you don't want to live that long...."  said Edith who was more focused on her lunch than on what was going on.

"I don't!  Do you all want to live to be that old?"   she was incredulous every time she heard someone talk like this.  

"Are you suicidal Grace, do you need to talk?"  Debbie was starting to irritate Grace. 
"Oh for heaven's sake, Debbie.  I am not suicidal.  I love my life.  I just don't want to live to be a decrepit old woman waiting to die.  Who wants that?  I don't understand people who want to add years to their life when those added years will be as a very old person.   No thanks. I want to go out while I am still fully functional.  In fact, I could go anytime now, and that would be fine with me."  Grace took a sip of her wine and hoped they would let it drop now.

"So, you're saying if you got hit by a bus on your way home today, we could know that you died happy?"  asked Edith between bits of her lasagna.

Grace thought about it and wondered how she could make her friends understand her point of view.

"Okay look.  I have done everything I am supposed to in my life.  Got an education, then a career and then got married, had kids and now I have grand kids.  What more is there for me to do? I don't want to travel, I don't have a husband anymore to grow old with.  My health isn't great and I can't imagine how i will be ten or twenty years from now.  I guess what I am saying is 'quit while you're ahead'.  Wouldn't it be nice to be able to check out of this life whenever you choose? Avoid all of the decline that comes with aging?"  

Edith, who was 10 years older than Grace, stopped eating and looked at her. 

"I'm 68 years old, Grace, and I have so much I still want to do.   I feel like I have only begun my life now that I am retired.   I've never felt better than I do now." 

Grace found it hard to believe that Edith had never felt better.  What about when she was young?  But she didn't say anything.

"Well Edith, that's good for you then.  You are very lucky.  I'm not saying everyone should feel like I do, I am just saying how I feel. "  she looked at Debbie "How is Rachel's mother?   Does she still live alone, does she have all her faculties?  Does she enjoy her life? "
Debbie was thoughtful for a minute or so.

"Well.....she is in a home.   And she's blind and in a wheelchair.  But Rachel says she is always cheerful when she come to visit her.  She seems to know who Rachel is and they have good visits."  
Grace thought about that.   How could she be happy living like that?    Being blind would be especially hard.  Not being able to read or play on her computer, or paint or any of the things she liked to do.   And since she was diabetic she knew that blindness was a very real possibility for her down the road.

"What about your family?  Your grandkids?  Wouldn't they miss you?"  asked Edith.

"My children are busy with their own lives.   They don't have time for me...."  she put her hand up to stop Debbie from interrupting "...it's okay Debbie, I am not feeling sorry myself.  It's a fact of life, that when your kids grow up they don't need you anymore. It's as it should be.  I didn't need my mother after I got married.  It was nice to have her, don't get me wrong, but she wasn't a big part of my life."

Grace's mother had died in her sleep two years ago.  She had been healthy and active.  It had been a terrible blow to her.  Her mother had been 75 years old.  Never sick a day in her life.  But what a blessed way to go.
"Think of it this way.   Do you really want to become a burden on your family?  Do you want them to watch you decline year after year?   Do you really want to rot away in a nursing home and have people come visit you as a duty or as a volunteer job? Do you want to drain the health care system for years with all of the various illness the elderly are prone to?  I don't.  I want to live each day to the fullest.  I want to wake up every day grateful for the gift of a new day.  I want to have fun.  And....I  am ready to die.  I want it to be quick.   And I want it to be either in my sleep or doing something crazy like bungee jumping or skydiving.  That's how I feel.  "   Grace knew she would never bungee jump or skydive but she thought that throwing that in would dispel any ideas of her being suicidal.

"I can't believe you are being so negative and so selfish, Grace."   said Debbie, her eyes filling with tears.

"I don't see it that way Deb. "  She grabbed her hand.  "I am not going to die any minute, silly.  I am taking good care of myself so that the time I am here is good.   But I mean it when I say I am done.  Not sad, not depressed, just done."    And with that she stood up, hugged her friends , left some money for her share of the bill and said "I have to go now.  I have to go to my salsa dancing class.  It's been a slice."    

There was no salsa dancing class.  She was going home to curl up on the couch and read.  But her friends didn't know that.

Edith and Debbie silently watched her leave.  
"Poor Grace, " said Debbie, sadly "we really need to be there for her, Edith and help her through this suicidal depression."

Edith was thoughtful for a moment.

"Maybe I am as crazy as Grace, because I think she makes a lot of sense".   

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Florence Finnegan

Florence Finnegan

Her name was Florence Finnegan.   Her mother was a nurse, passionate about her calling, who wanted to name her daughter after her idol, Florence Nightingale. All of the bedtime stories Florence heard growing up were about the brave nurse.  And she was expected to demonstrate the same traits.  Florence was never given a nickname.  "Florence Nightingale didn't use a nickname"  her mother scolded whenever Florence asked to be called something else, usually Mary.  Florence knew this was not true, she knew Florence Nightingale was known as the Lady with the Lamp, but she didn't mention this to her mother because her mother hated know- it-alls.   So she was just Florence. Not Flo or Florry. 

Florence Finnegan was chubby, freckled, redheaded, and cursed with a farsightedness that required thick glasses that magnified her mud brown eyes enormously.  She was not active or social, preferring to spend her time curled up on her bed, alone in her room with a book and her ginger cat, Spot.   Florence Finnegan 's red hair wasn't the pretty red like Anne of Green Gables.  It was carrot red and wiry curly.   Her mother kept it plaited tightly to keep it under control.   She stayed out of the sun as much as possible to avoid more freckles than she actually had or worse, a bright red sunburn that would clash with her hair.   Florence Finnegan was eight years old and in Grade Three..

You would think that someone like Florence would be the object of bullying for all sorts of reasons.  Her shyness, her weight, her hair colour, her freckles, even her name.   But Florence was invisible. She had a force field around her that seemed to repel the bullies.   A deep seated self possession, a strength that even at such a young age protected Florence by sending out a message that she would not be messed with.  She had never had to prove herself to anyone.   Because no one really noticed her.   Hard as that is to believe.   She was quiet and preferred her own company.  It didn't bother her to be this way although sometimes she really longed to be liked.
Sometimes she wished she was like Kathy Hawkins.  Florence was in love with Kathy Hawkins as was just about every other kid in her class.  Kathy had long silky blond hair, clear ivory skin and sparkling blue eyes.  She was everything Florence was not.   Florence sometimes longed to be a person like that.  She would imagine, alone at night in her bed, that if she died she would come back as Kathy Hawkins.   It was silly she knew, as Kathy was already Kathy, not a lost soul waiting for a dead Florence to inhabit her body.   At any rate, Florence never made her feelings known to Kathy.  She was not the type of girl to curry favour from other people.   Unlike her classmates,   Florence didn't clamour for Kathy's attention at recess, bringing her flowers, offering her key positions in games.  Florence preferred to worship her from afar.   Her invisibility made  it possible to be near Kathy  without being noticed by her.

When I say Florence was invisible, obviously I am speaking metaphorically.   She was visible of course.  But people never thought of Florence.    Valentine's were few in her little construction paper heart.  She got Valentine's from classmates who's mothers insisted their children send one to everyone in the class. Her name took too long to write and didn't fit on Valentine's cards and birthday invitations.   Because she was silent and self sufficient she didn't draw attention to herself.   If Florence was in school in this day and age she might have been singled out as 'exceptional'  or she might have drawn the attention of her teacher because she was too quiet and withdrawn.   But back in those days, the quiet and meek flew under the radar.

 Florence's life changed the day the teacher announced that the class would be forming a choir and would be performing at a music festival later in the year.   Every child in the class would be required to be in this choir.  Florence's heart leaped into her chest.   A choir!   Florence loved to sing.  She sang every chance she got...when she was alone.   Her mother had heard her once and told Florence not to show off.  She was to be humble and modest.   It was not right to be proud of her gifts.  It was not right for her to be going around  singing all the time.  So she kept it quiet.    But now, the teacher said they all had to sing.   Surely her mother wouldn't mind her singing with a bunch of others.   She decided to keep it to herself for as long as she could just in case her mother found a reason to have her removed from the choir.

The class was put into two sections.   Soprano and Alto.  All the high voices were sopranos and the low voices were altos.   That was all the harmony the grade three classes  were capable of.     Florence watched as the teacher tested each student to see where they would fit.   Typically, at their age, most of the children would be sopranos, but there were a few altos, mostly boys.   Everyone had been chosen and placed when the teacher noticed Florence standing there. 

"Florence!  Come over here and let me hear you...."   she said, distractedly arranging herself on the piano bench.

Florence walked slowly over.  The rest of the class was talking amongst themselves and acting unruly they way children will when the teacher is occupied. 
The teacher played the scale and  Florence sang along.   As the teacher played each note Florence's courage grew and she began to sing with more confidence.  The teacher stopped playing and looked at Florence as if seeing her for the first time.   Her classmates had grown quiet as Florence sang the notes of the scale, and then the next scale, and the next showing a range unheard of in a child so young.

"Florence, you are lucky enough to have a choice of soprano or alto.  Which would you like to sing?"  the teacher asked .

Florence was not used to being asked anything.   No one had ever asked her preference for anything.  She was at a loss.   And then she looked at Kathy Hawkins sitting there in the soprano section.
"I would like to be a soprano"  she said quietly.   And she went over and stood beside Kathy who moved over to make room.

They began to sing the first song they would be learning.   As the group sang  in the cacophonous way of young children, one voice stood out.    One voice sang the melody in a voice clear and sweet.   She knew the song, she loved the song, she owned the song in her heart.  

"Florence Finnegan! " the teacher exclaimed   "You sing like a Nightingale!!"
Florence did not know what to do with this information.  Florence the Nightingale??   Even at eight  years old Florence could appreciate the irony of her situation. 
From that day forward her classmates seemed to notice her a bit more.   They seemed puzzled at first.  Where had this child come from?   How could such a beautiful sound come from....well, from Florence?  But it did.   Florence didn't become popular by any means.  It wasn't something she wanted and she didn't encourage the attentions of her classmates and teachers.   But for those moments when Florence sang,  she imagined that she could be a Kathy, or a Susan, or a Karen.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Elaine's Escapade

Elaine's Escapade

Elaine drove in to the parking lot of the restaurant and her heart started beating a little faster.   She had no idea what the evening ahead would be like, but she was excited.   She had only known Brenda for a short time and their contact so far had been by email or online chat.  And it had been positive, much to her surprise.   No stranger to online dating, Elaine's expectations had been fairly low.   So far, Brenda had seemed to be different from anyone she had talked to in the past.  She wanted to let herself hope, but in spite of the excitement at meeting her, Elaine's reservations were high.   Too many times she had been bitterly disappointed, and a few times even downright terrified with her online dating experiences.

As Elaine neared the restaurant she saw a woman standing alone outside the building.  Brenda had said she would be waiting outside as she didn't like going in to restaurants alone.   That must be her, Elaine thought.   There wasn't time to get a good look at her, but Elaine was relieved to see that she looked like her profile picture.  That was a good sign.   As she looked for a parking spot she recalled one woman she met on line who admitted to being a "woman of size" but assured Elaine she was healthy and mobile.  Her profile picture had shown a beautiful full figured blue eyed blond.  When they met in person however, it was clear that the picture had been at least 10 years old and the woman was at least 100 lbs heavier than she was at that time. 

Elaine found a parking spot, took a deep breath and got out of the car.   This was it.  Time to see if two weeks of exciting emails and the forging of a definite connection were in fact reality or the lead up to yet another disappointment.   Without thinking , Elaine bent down and picked up a discarded coffee cup that was lying on the ground behind her car.   Elaine hated litter and picked it up whenever she could.  But now she realized that she was about to meet Brenda and she was carrying garbage!!! What an idiot she was!  Doing what she does best in any awkward situation Elaine used humour to alleviate the tension.  As she approached the woman standing there she made some flip comment about being her dream date showing up carrying garbage.   Brenda didn't laugh.  In fact, as they hugged each other hello, Elaine noted that Brenda looked like she was about to throw up.  Elaine's nervousness, previously at an acceptable level given the situation, ramped up in to high gear.   This could be awkward.

They went inside and Elaine stole quick glances at Brenda as they made small talk while  waiting in line to order. She was happy to notice that Brenda seemed to be doing the same thing. She was very cute.  Lovely eyes, a shy smile.  And just the right height!  The hug had been nice. 

The coffee shop was known for its decadent waffles.  Elaine, who was a hard core sugar addict, had been looking forward all day to the Chunky Monkey;  an evil concoction of two scoops of ice cream, chocolate syrup and bananas  on top of one of the best waffles Elaine had ever tasted.  She had skipped lunch in order to alleviate some of the guilt.  

"What are you having?"  she asked Brenda

"I'm going to order a cappucino" she said.

" Are you going to eat anything?"  asked Elaine

"I'm feeling really nauseous, I don't think I can eat anything."  Brenda blushed and gave a small laugh.  "I'm really nervous."

Elaine's heart sank.  She couldn't eat???  That meant Elaine would not be having that delectable waffle after all.   While outwardly she seemed calm and outgoing, inside she had her own anxieties, one of which was not being able to eat in front of anyone she didn't know well, unless they were also eating.  So she ordered a cup of tea and shrugged off her disappointment, telling herself she didn't need the calories anyway.

They found a table near the window and sat down.   Finally she was able to get a good look at Brenda and she definitely liked what she saw.   It was really hard to tell if Brenda felt the same.   She had told Elaine that she was a really shy and quiet person and didn't talk much.    But in her emails she had come across as funny, and chatty and very open.   So, Elaine had figured she was like most of the people she knew who said they were quiet introverts when in reality you couldn't get a word in edgewise with them.  But Brenda was true to her word.   She was quiet.   And reserved.  And Elaine knew she was trying not to run to the bathroom to be sick.   But Elaine liked her vibe.  She felt comfortable with Brenda and wished there was some way she could make her feel comfortable.  

Elaine had a brainstorm when she remembered seeing a set of questions on Facebook that were supposed to help you get to know people.  She grabbed her phone and looked them up.  

"So there are 36 questions here that are supposed to bring us closer by answering them.  Do you want to  try some?"

"Sure! "  Brenda said, looking a bit relieved at being off the hook for small talk.

And there began a totally enjoyable evening of sharing and laughing and getting to know each other better.   Elaine realized Brenda had a wonderful sense of humour and sweetness about her she had not seen in other women she had dated.   Brenda was genuine and honest.   They sat in the coffee shop for hours.  Brenda even managed to eat a croissant and Elaine was happy with a muffin, all thoughts of the Chunky Monkey gone from her mind in the happiness of the evening.

The evening was getting late when they reluctantly decided it was time to go.  They walked out to the parking lot and hugged again.  A longer hug this time.  But no kiss, even though Elaine wanted to, it didn't seem the right time.   This was not a relationship she wanted to rush.   This was not a woman she wanted to hurry in to her bed.   Elaine felt that this was someone worth getting to know, and she wanted this to be different from every other relationship she had ever had. Even if it never became anything more than friendship, Elaine felt her life would be richer for it.  She got in to her car that night feeling happy and she couldn't wait to get home and see if there was an email from her new friend Brenda.