………………The Kindness of Strangers
Like Blanche Dubois I suppose I, too, depend on the kindness of strangers now and again but in a very odd and personal way, one that Blanche Dubois, even in her most devious and self-promotional soul never could have imagined.
I had just spent a stressful, enervating, exhilarating, hilarious and did I mention, stressful…..10 days with my family. This was not your normal “stressful” family reunion type stressful. This was “my little sister has Stage IV lung cancer and we’re all freaking out”…stressful.
I’m good in emergencies, I’ve had my share.
I can triage, delegate, command, comfort and complete missions and time critical assignments.
The foundation of this situation is built on the inherent stress that exists, all day, every night, when a close family member is thunderstruck with a cancer diagnosis. We all Google, absorb, bargain with God, worry, over-eat, under-eat, lose sleep and stumble forward into each progressing moment with a potently toxic mixture of dread and urgency.
I might also add that my particular family HAD to have been the model for the Series Brothers and Sisters so add to this a frenetic mixture of theatricalized emotions, a million and one phone calls, emails, texts…….per hour…….literally. If we could have ATT implants we would, yesterday.
Falling into bed each night was more akin to a much needed hospital induced coma than a respite of pleasant pillows full of puffy dreams. My eyes would spring open each morning and the starkness of the realization that “it” was still there, still needed attention, demanded accommodation….was almost too much to think about but dive into the day I did, again and again, all the while reminding myself that in Helene’s world, “IT” was residing in capitals and if I felt this much angst, she must be on the edge of crazy.
So the 10 days flew by, we doctored, cliniced, labed and talked…..and talked. I took up the new family obsession of on-line scrabble; we’ve always followed mom’s lead here with crossword manias, all. I resist the temptation to see only words like “doctor”, “medical”, “death”, “illness” in the jumble of letters provided as we each in our own little cyber bubbles frantically pass time, time we don’t have to squander, madly scrambling letter tiles to make sense of as yet unseen words in the faint hope that by solving each new challenge, we may yet solve the biggest hurdle we all have in our hearts and minds.
And finally we have a plan.
A single pill, a path forward instead of the dead full stop we have been at for the month that seems like forever. No infusions, no hours of waiting each appointment for the poison that heals to kill us with its mercy. Just a pill. Some side effects likely, ok, that we can handle. And if the side effects show up quickly…it means the miracle pill is doing its job and the plan will proceed into the as yet unseen future.
So for the moment, the lifeboat steadies and we all, including Helene for a change, take a deep breath!
I can head for home for now, back to the rest of my life and let this incredible 10 days settle into my psyche and see what it will produce there.
Which brings us back to the kindness of strangers.
I have been so totally engrossed in the folds of the family that stepping back into the world seems alien, vivid, extra-ordinary.
I wander my way to the airport through downtown Washington, DC. The rain has stopped! The sun is out. The promise of fall approaches in the air. I call my friend John and we lunch at an outdoor café off Dupont Circle and I think about my family’s history in this amazing city and the sheer happenstance of having been born here. Even with the politicians this city is alive with beauty, especially this brilliant thinly sunned day.
At the airport I see a couple joking with the gate agents, she, obviously connected to Delta in some way, he, a camera man for French2 TV. They will be on my flight. I catch her eye and we laugh at some unseen joke together and acknowledge each other in the vast churning pool of humanity that crushes forward to board our plane.
They are seated in the row behind me. I am alone in my row…amazing. We again laugh at the randomness of life, exchange another joke, buckle in and each dive into our own thoughts as the plane heads into the clouds.
I am watching the in-flight map tracing our path across the eastern states and imagining exactly what is below us. I know these places well, I have traveled them all countless times.
The seatbelt sign blinks off, people begin to stir, the service carts come out. I know I need a drink. I really need this drink. I can taste the Woodford Reserve already and wistfully anticipate the heady aroma of charred oak and smoky barley that will precede the buttery heaven of the amber liquid itself.
And then, a tap on my elbow through the seat backs.
I raise my arm and two drink tickets appear from the row behind. Psychic? Like the most empathetic bartenders the world over, does she instinctively know how much I am craving this temporary release into escapism?
No, she is showing the Kindness of Strangers. Oprah’s Random Acts of Kindness. Humanity at its finest.
As I slowly swish my Woodford’s to life I suddenly realize how kind people really are, how large the world is, how tunnel like and taught mine has been of late and how just plain weary I am.
I start to cry, softly, without warning or notice or fanfare. I have yet to cry this past month. I have held myself so tightly together that I am brittle, fractal, too easily breakable. The tears course down my face silently and fall into my drink, adding a little human salt into the mix . I cry all the way across Ohio. No great loss I conclude.
And the gain was worth the pain.