Friday, September 28, 2012

The White-Haired Lady on the Ground


Today has been a tough day. I just want it to end. I spent the morning in class. Teaching usually energizes me, but I am dealing now with a personality that presents me a challenge. My initial reaction is to make the problem go away. My more measured response asks me to consider that we are all different and that perhaps there is a lesson here for me to learn. I am attempting to practice tolerance, patience, and compassion for this individual. Still. I have set guidelines for how he may talk to me (“Do NOT yell at me.”), determined where the nearest security phone is, and reviewed procedures for having a student dismissed. Just in case.

I have dragged my butt now to the coffee shop to grade exams. I will have minimal distractions here and welcome the white noise of the lunch date chatter and the dinging oven timer. I sit with my latte and my purple pen, a stack of essay questions spread across the table. Grading is not a part of my job that I especially enjoy. I find it draining. I would much rather lecture, discuss, converse, talk, laugh, interact. I have seriously considered verbal exams. But here I am, nonetheless, doing what I am paid to do, poring through answers that are all the same, question after question, one at a time, to determine if, indeed, the student knows the material, and if, indeed, I have done my job.

Where is all that inner joy I felt the other day? I should have bottled some of that and saved it for times like this. It has been a difficult morning, and I am looking forward to sleeping away some of these negative vibes with a nice long afternoon nap.

As I am making my way through the parking lot, I notice the flashing lights of the emergency vehicles. I slow my car, and as I do, I see the white-haired lady, unconscious on the ground. Or maybe she is dead. She wears green slacks and a purple floral blouse. Her hair looks beauty shop fresh. It is teased and white, reminding me of the days when women visited the salon once a week. She lies on the concrete just outside the local Weight Watchers. She looks like she could have been out with the girls. I attended Weight Watchers meetings at one point in my life. Some of the older ladies do that. They use the two hours once a week as social time, as a reason to get out of the house. They never really lose and never really gain. Was she catching up like this? Or was she meeting her daughter for lunch? Was she looking forward to her time out this morning?

And why is she unconscious on the ground? Was she hit by the young woman in the black Pontiac? The car is at an angle, turning into the lane where I see the woman. Very possibly the unconscious woman was hit. Or did the young woman turn into the lane to see the white-haired lady already on the ground? Did the older woman’s body fail her? Did her heart give? Is she dead? Am I looking at the end of a life? Or the hope that life is still there? The medics are placing something under her body. I assume they are preparing to lift her onto a stretcher and into the ambulance. This just happened. Had I left any earlier I would have seen the answers to my questions. Had I left earlier than that, I would not have seen anything at all.

I try to move along, careful not to cause a second accident while staring at the first. I creep slowly through and make my way home.

Was she having a good morning? Or, like me, a bad day? Were the last words she heard the “Have a good day, and see you next week” coming from her meeting leader? I cannot get this woman out of my head. I may have just witnessed the end of a life. It happens like that. One minute you stand on a scale in front of the receptionist for your weekly weigh in, careful to take off every bit of clothing publicly acceptable so as to get the lowest read. The next you are on the ground being lifted into an ambulance, fighting for your life, or saying goodbye to it.

I rethink my day.

Yes, it has been stressful, but I am breathing. I have enjoyed the company of students who make me smile. I have spent my morning at a job I love, a job that brings me joy, a job in which I have opportunity to positively impact the lives of others. And, yes, I had exams to grade, but I did so in the comfort of a warm and inviting coffee shop with baristas who know me by name, who know my drink, who chat me up and make me laugh. I was comfortable. I was warm.

How did I leave the last person I saw? I must think on this. It is suddenly very important. Was I kind? Did I smile? Did I make a point to lift up his day? I was asking about a new e-reader. “Nice Christmas present idea.” Those were my last words. What if those were the last he heard? I didn’t wish him a great day. I didn’t thank him for answering my questions. What if those are the last words he ever hears?

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