When my mother-in-law dozed off, I shut the door to her room at the assisted living facility and looked for some place where I could sit unnoticed and NOT think.
When you are visiting a place such as that, you can only really think one thought: Life is a river flowing in one direction. Eventually – and more quickly than the mind can conceive – the river empties out into the great delta of geriatric unpleasantness.
Unless one capsizes mid-journey and is swallowed up by the river, the delta is our destiny. The great contradiction of the delta is this: No one wants to go there and at the same time no one wants to not make it there. And so we spend most of our lives pretending we can outsmart the river.
I found a little sitting nook in front of a window outside my mother-in-law’s room that overlooks a little courtyard and I pulled out my iPad hoping it would put me into an electronically induced coma of sorts or at least that it would serve as a Do Not Disturb sign and no one would stop to chat me up.
Within minutes, I sensed her rolling up behind me, chopping her slipper-clad feet at the carpet to scoot herself forward.
“Please oh please don’t stop,” I thought to myself, “Please just keep going. Please don’t talk to me, please just let me be.”
But she didn’t keep going. She stopped. She rolled up beside me and didn’t say a word. I looked up from my iPad and out the courtyard windows, and there she was, her reflection next to mine, both of us gazing beyond the window and down the river.
Finally, because it was all that could be done, I turned to her and said hello.
“What is that you got there?” she asked, pointing to my iPad.
I told her what it was and that I was playing a game on it to pass the time while my mother-in-law napped.
She said she always wanted to learn how to use a computer but never did. And now it was too late.
Then she told me her name was Jane.
Jane had big round blue eyes and a mostly clear mind. She had been a high school English teacher in the west Texas town of Odessa. Jane was a little more tart than sweet and it didn’t take long to fall in love with her. For the next hour, she recounted scenes from her life in Odessa all while folding and unfolding a piece of paper in her hands.
When she ran out of stories or just grew tired of talking, we sat and stared at ourselves in the window.
“Would you like for me to read you a poem?” she asked unexpectedly.
“Yes, I would love that,” I said honestly.
She sat up tall in her wheelchair and in her English Teacher’s voice, she read:
Only Now -
This is the best time
The only now that
we have time
and soon, much too soon
Now will become then and
will start all over again
When she finished, I asked her if she had written it.
“Yes, I did,” she said, “In 1981.” She handed me the paper. I re-read the poem and noticed her pretty youthful handwriting. I saw that she had written down the date and even the hour that she had written it – March 14, 1981, 2pm. I wondered what she had been doing that day, what in her life had brought her those poetic thoughts and why she wrote them down. On that particular day in 1981, I was barely 21, at the headwaters of the river.
Just then, AD and other family members found me and set up camp in what had been my private nook and began chatting and sharing news as though nothing special had just happened.
When I turned my attention back to Jane, she had quietly slipped away and was scooting down the hall with her poem folded up in her hand. I watched her scoot all the way down the hall and around the corner.
And I wanted to go with her.