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3.13.2012

WHAT DEFINES US?

What defines our lives?  Is it what brings us fulfillment?  Is it what occupies the greatest time slot at the time; family, careers, finances, health, relationships, a goal?  Putting the trash dumpster and recyclable bin out by the curb last evening, my elderly old-maid neighbor lady from directly across the street began a conversation with me.  I walked across the street to have a bit of neighborly dialogue with her.  She was a secretary all her life, taught piano lessons (still does), and never married.  I would guess her age somewhere at 75ish.  Now Carol really does have beautiful white hair.  It is styled in a short, older woman sort of style and always looks nice.  She is not an outdoors person and maybe due to age, or just dislike, does none of her own outside yard work, raking, shoveling, or puttering in the landscaping chores.  I can tell this past year she is not quite as steady on her feet as I watch her pull her trash can to the curb with slowness and struggle.  Do I help her or let her be?  I would want someone to let me be at her age and do the things that I want to still try to do:)  I comment to Carol that her hair looked beautiful.  Did she just get it done today?  I'm not sure how a comment and question about hair led to what then dominated the conversation - her health, but it did.  She told me about getting her hair done at Walmart because it is so much cheaper.  She told me about how you can't make an appointment there, but that's ok as she gets her groceries there while she waits.  Her comment about Walmart led to her saying that she doesn't like to drive out that far (Walmart is probably less than 4 miles from here but through city traffic) as it makes her nervous.  She told me that since her birthday this year physically she has struggled with her sciatica and then a chronic cold since January with a round of anti-biotics.   She talked about her aches and pains.  I tried to be compassionate, empathetic even, but also to get her to find joy in something instead of focusing on what she couldn't do or didn't like about her life.  I wasn't successful.  I offered to pick anything up at the store when I go that she needs.  I should have probably offered to take her with me, but I didn't know how I would survive a trip trapped in the car with Chronically Complaining Carol!  Feeling the full weight of depression that was clouding over her now attempting to suck me in, I changed the subject.  The weather!  Beautiful in the Midwest and unseasonably warm the past few days.  I tell her the forecast is slated for 70+ degrees for the next week.  She responds with, "Well, it won't last!"  DUH!  I know that.  Let's state the obvious instead of being thankful for a bit of a respite from the normal early March coolness!  I have to extricate myself as I really truly can only take Negative Nellies for about 2 minutes.  I have exceeded that time limit.  As I turn to leave I repeat to her, "Carol, you might feel yucky, but you look great today!"  I do get a bit of a smile out her for a brief moment as she responds, "Well, don't get old.  That's all I can say.  Just don't get old!"  I try one last thing as I turn mid-street, "Don't think there is anything I can do about getting old.  We all get there eventually.  The only thing I can do is try to enjoy the good part of it!"  It was a day of people telling me their physical woes.  Earlier in the day, while at the lab for some routine blood work, the lab tech-a middle aged woman, tells me about her hip replacement surgery that she is going to have.  She says until a month ago there was no pain but that this month has been horrific.  I sympathize with her - chronic pain is horrific.  I'm on a quest though - find something positive with her.  I say, "Did you ever stop to look at it this way; most people who have hip replacement surgery have struggled with pain and degeneration for years.  You only had to endure one month of it before getting it fixed!"   She smiled wryly acknowledging she should view it that way too.  I wondered last night late, you know when the days events are just kind of jumbling around your brain for final review before being placed in their appropriate files, what defines our lives.  What defined these two women's lives right now.  And, what defined mine.

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