Friday, November 30, 2007

Circle of Life

(This post is dedicated to my grandfather, the sweetest man I've ever known.)

No, this is not some sentimental ode to the ridiculously flamboyant singer or the Disney folks for whom he composes songs. It's much simpler than that.

It started this morning. The whining that is. Followed by the fighting. And the crying. And the pleas for help. And the throwing of toys. And the mess. You know. Typical Friday...or any other day of the week for that matter.

Anyway, I'd had enough. So, despite my commitment to saving money and healthful living, I decided that in the interest of my own sanity, it was time to pull out the big guns. I buckled the kids in the car and headed out for the one thing that I knew would not only make me feel better (at least temporarily), but would keep the kids quiet and contained for at least 30 blissful minutes. I was in search of comfort food. And in my world, that'd be a big, fat, cheesy hamburger, fries, and a coke.

Now despite everything I despise about our current redneck...uh...I mean southern locale, even I must admit that it has one very important thing going for it. Hardees. How I love me some Hardees. I can't help it. I'm a sucker for a thickburger. And the kids, well, what kid do you know that doesn't love chicken strips, fries, and chocolatey goodness whipped with ice cream and milk?

So, the four of us (we called "Da-dee Dugiss" to join us for this culinary expedition of fried foods) sat blissfully in our collective saturated fat coma, devouring the greasy goodness when an elderly man and a woman appearing to be his daughter sat next to us. And although I struggled to pinpoint it exactly, I couldn't help but notice that the daughter had an all too familiar look on her face. Was it exasperation? Or impatience? Or maybe a desperate weariness? Exhaustion? Boredom? Frustration? Yes, traces of all of those were evident, but there was also definitely a look of concern and love and devotion.

Regardless of the exact emotion, there it was. That look. The very one that I see staring back at me in the mirror so often. The furrowed brow line which, in the complete absence of botulism induced paralysis, now bears deeply grooved lines testifying to sleepless nights and harrowing encounters with hot stove tops or broken drinking glasses under feet. The crow's feet sprawling from the corners of each eye, bearing witness to belly-aching giggles and the beam of a smile brought on by accomplishment. The glassy stare, evidence of that mental asylum of her daydreams where thoughts travel when the boredom and routine of it all becomes too much to bear. It was all there. Written on her face like an E! True Hollywood Story expose, but without the fame, glory, and fortune.

And of course, I immediately assumed that she must have children at home. Small children that repeat the same obvious questions over and over and over. Children who repeatedly put their hands where they've been told not to despite the threat of consequences. Children who push and pull and tug and nag and giggle and delight. Children to whom she has surrendered herself despite feeling that she wasn't yet finished fulfilling her own needs.

And then I heard it.

"Yes Dad. That's coffee. Don't take the lid off. You drink it from this little hole here in the top. Be careful. It's hot. And your sandwich is coming."

"I'm having a sandwich?"

"Yes Dad. You wanted a chicken sandwich."

"But I don't like chicken."

(at this point another middle-aged man shows up at the table who is an obvious relation to the young woman)

"May I join you for lunch?"

"Who are you?"

"This is so-and-so Dad. He's treating us to lunch."

"Oh. ok. Are you having coffee?"

"No, I'm having a coke."

"Are we eating?"

"Yes Dad. We're going to eat. You're having a chicken sandwich."

"But I don't like chicken."

(now taking the lid off of his coffee for the 3rd time in as many minutes)

"No Dad. You leave the lid on and drink through this little hole. But blow on it. It's hot."

"Is this coffee? What are you having?"

At this point, I realized that I had been staring at this woman and her dining companions the entire time when she shot me a friendly, but mind-your-own-business glance. I smiled shyly but knowingly at her as I wiped the ketchup off of Nicky while blowing on his piping hot chicken, and then replaced the lid on his lemonade for the second time. She smiled back.

And there it was.

That silent connection that you sometimes feel with complete strangers.

Empathy.

The, "I'm with you sister," moment that binds two people if just for a second. Not so incidentally, it is the same feeling I have with so many of you blogger chicks out there. And even though our circumstances were totally at odds with one another, her caring for her aging father and I for my young children, we were both acutely aware of how similar our lives were in that moment. And through each other we were each given a glimpse of the circle of our lives. My children and I reminding her of a time when she was small and fumbling and her father guided her through life's daily challenges. And she and her father reminding me that one day my children may be helping me navigate life's little messes, and how I hope that my own care has taught them the kind of patient, loving regard with which I hope to be treated.

And there we were.
This woman and I.
Caught.
Somewhere in the middle of this circle of life.

7 comments:

Amanda said...

Stunning.
I'm so glad I got to read this. Tru;y lovely, Danielle.

Joanna said...

i know you've already taught them so much about love and patience!

Ruth said...

As you have visited my blog in the past, I finally found a moment to visit yours. Fabulous. I only read this one entry.... looked for photos, which seem to be gone. (disappointed). Really good stuff. Thank you.

thirtysomething said...

"Children to whom she has surrendered herself despite feeling that she wasn't yet finished fulfilling her own needs". That.got.me.
I am so there.
Hey, and the whining is enough justification to head to the ole McD...sometimes we need the fries WAY more than they do. Yep. I said need.
Thanks for the visit to my blog, always great to hear from a new friend! Your blog is definitely one I will return to--very funny and well-written.

slouching mom said...

Beautiful post.

And Alzheimer's is such a tragedy -- for everyone. The one who suffers from it, and the ones who love him or her.

Mrs. Chicken said...

Wow. I really, really love this. Amazingly astute and so gently told.

Kelly said...

My grandmother is now the same way, but her lack of memory is being referred to as dementia and not officially Alzheimer's, as she's 95.

Great post.