I went to Starbucks today. I sat in my usual comfy chair with my journal in my lap and a book set on a table to read when I am finished writing. I hear a woman’s voice tell someone their usual spot is taken. I look up and see a woman settling into a chair across from me. I ask her if she would rather sit here. A huge smile covers her face. She’s sixty-five years old, (I learn this later) but has the ‘full of life’ smile of a child and she really likes to sit near the window.
I stand up and collect my things. With the help of a cane, she walks toward me. I offer my hand. She takes it, kisses it, and presses it against her face. I smile. That’s not why I extended my hand. I meant to help her, but I don’t mind. It’s not awkward. She’s sweet and thanks me many times for giving up my seat. I tell her I’m happy to do it. Her husband arrives with their drinks and they sit together, side-by-side, on the cozy chairs near the window.
We talk a little. She tells me her age and the reason for the cane is because she has Multiple Sclerosis, a condition she developed when she was twenty-two. She tells me she worked with children with Autism and she is recently retired. Because I know MS is a progressive disease, I tell her how wonderful it is that she was able to work for so long doing what she loves. Again, she smiles that awesome smile.
She talks about her husband and casts a loving look his way. “He’s been taking care of me our whole marriage. We’ve been married almost forty years.” I imagine she takes care of him in ways she doesn’t even realize because being with her for the short time that I was made me feel more alive – more appreciative of life – than I’ve ever been.
I listen to this woman talk and occasional symptoms of her disease show, but she works through them. “I’m a fighter,” she tells me.
“Yes, you are.”
She smiles and waves at people. When a young mother with a small child orders the exact beverage she has, she raises her drink, and says, “Me too!”
I go to my new seat and open my journal. I try to concentrate on what I was there to write, but I can’t stop watching the couple I just met. Their legs stretched out on an ottoman, as they relax into their chairs, talking and laughing, completely enthralled with each other.
After nearly forty years of marriage, not only does this husband and wife still love one another, but they really like each other, too. Even when they’re saying nothing, I can feel contentment in their silence. It’s a touching moment because sometimes a partner’s illness can strain a relationship, but poor health hasn’t dampened this couple’s bond – -perhaps it has enriched it.
I watch them closely and know they are oblivious of the woman sitting across the room writing about them. And that she is inspired. They inspired someone – me — just by being themselves and I really needed that today.
I see them preparing to leave and I toss my journal to the side. I’m sure the woman will come to me, so I get ready to stand up. I ponder if a simple ‘good-bye’ will do or if I should extend my hand. It’s an uncomfortable predicament because so many people are anti-contact, but the woman puts my concern immediately at ease when she approaches me with her arms wide open. And that smile…Oh that smile.
She hugs me as though she’s known me for a long time. It’s not a quick embrace. She lingers close to my neck, long enough to tell me I smell good. She kisses my hand again.
I ask her name. It’s Betsy. She says she comes here a lot. I tell her I hope to see her again. And I mean that.
We don’t need to climb a mountain to inspire – – just look adversity in the face and smile. Someone will be inspired.
Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net