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Out on the Limb

The Coffee Shop

Monday, January 29, 2007

Today, I went to the coffee shop later than the norm. This has been happening more frequently lately, partly because I enjoy sitting and "talking" with Fred. Fred recently suffered his second stroke. His recovery is inspiring. He approaches his new life of re-learning with determination and gratitude. He knows.....today could be his last. His ability to embrace the moment makes for fascinating, albiet painfully slow, conversation.

If I arrive at the coffee shop at my usual time, I am generally leaving as Fred is arriving. But I linger...sitting with Fred and asking him questions, which forces him to practice his speech and handwriting skills. Sometimes when I don't understand his speech, he takes out his pen and paper and writes his thoughts. Two words could take five minutes, during which he laughs, frowns, raises his eyebrows, and apologizes needlessly. The whole process of conversation with Fred takes a patience I didn't know I possessed. I have apparently relaxed considerably since my office cubicle days of just seven short months ago. I help Fred with his speech; and Fred helps me with my patience. It's a rewarding experience. Sometimes I walk in to find Fred staring forlornly at the floor. Perhaps he is just lost in thought.

Fred did not arrive today, in spite of my later arrival. Most of the faces were unfamiliar to me. So I sat down in a secluded corner and, after realizing I had forgotten to bring my book, picked up a newspaper. Then Paul showed up.

Paul started out saying he had once heard me talking with Fred. He said he had heard me talking about Route 66. He told me he used to hitch-hike Route 66. He shuffled restlessly back and forth. He told one short story about himself after another, each falling short of being finished. He invited himself to sit. "Please", I said, waving him into the chair across from me. He rambled on. I couldn't figure out why a man so eager to talk didn't know what he wanted to talk about. So I just listened.

Before too long, Paul began to talk about his kids....about one of his children in particular. He told me how his oldest son was born premature and weighing not much more than two pounds. He told me how that son began having seizures at age 11, and how his health had deteriorated. He choked on his words and wiped his tears with a well-used handkerchief. He told me how his son died and how he was there when the day came to unplug him from life support. His son died at age 16 in his father's arms.

As I listened, I realized my first instinct was to pull away. I wanted to look away and down...anywhere but at the face of the suffering man across from me. But I didn't. I looked, and I cared. He was not ashamed to tell his story of grief, and so I was not ashamed to listen. When he was done, he thanked me for listening and said it had helped. Paul will need to retell his grief again, and someone will listen again. And this is good. Paul said sometimes people tell him it is time for him to "get over it" and move on. But I wonder how it is even possible to place a time limit on such a thing. It is what it is. His process is purely personal. All that the rest of us can do is witness and know that we, too, shall know grief. We are one.

Fred told me he wants to see Key West before he dies. I think I will ask him tomorrow what is stopping him.
posted by Deb, 8:32 PM

2 Comments:

I fear having children. Or at least that´s the excuse I use for not seeking a meaningful relationship. Along with the excuse of not wanting to be tied down. I fear that if I get into a relationship and eventually get married I will find myself just as lost and unhappy about my life as before. Except then I´d be risking to do damage to my child as I often feel my parents did to me by being too wrapped up in their own problems. But mostly I dread the overwhelming love I´m sure I would feel, and eventually the heartache that would follow.
commented by Anonymous Daydreamer, 10:58 AM  
I feared having children, too. I guess that's why I didn't plan any of them (3). In fact, I don't know how people can plan having children. I understand that planning is reasonable, logical, sensible, and morally responsible...but I still don't understand how the planners get past the terror of it all.

Anyway, the Dad and I made plenty of mistakes. There were gut wrenching moments and joy and love and tears and despair and .....LIFE.

We are all OK, and a bit wiser for our troubles. We learned some things about tolerance and foregiveness and facing our fears. We learned that life is short and meant to be shared. It was all worth it. Every heartache was worth it...and more.
commented by Blogger Deb, 7:14 PM  

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