Some memories grow into myths. The one that visited me today feels like a dream, with hazy images drifting in and out of focus…but I know it is true.
More than ten years ago, I met an older woman by chance and only briefly. Within moments she had led me into a deep and intimate conversation, revealing closely held truths in a way that is only possible with someone you know you will never see again.
She was in her 70’s, I suppose. She was small but her voice betrayed fierce passions. She sat in a motorized wheelchair and her body leaned a bit to one side. I wish I could remember her name.
In mid-life she had made the choice to move into a teepee. She explained that she had tired of being an indoor creature who went outside every once in a while. She longed to be an outside creature who rarely went in. She weathered the seasons and learned new rhythms, being cold when the January wind was cold. Being warm when the August sun was warm. She lived like this, getting ever closer to the earth, for more than a decade, until a stroke moved her into the wheelchair. And into a nursing home. She mourned the loss of her open skies and chaffed at the walls that surrounded her in the closing chapter of life.
But it’s more than that, she said.
She had lived a large life. She had experienced the rich taste of courage and wild places. She had much to share. She felt that she had matured into a mighty apple tree with fruits of wisdom hanging heavy on the branches…and yet…there was no one who showed up for the harvest. She had a story to tell but no audience to listen. As she felt her days grow short, she grieved the notion that the fruits she had nurtured for so many years might fall to the ground and rot without nourishing a soul.
So I listened. And she talked. And I listened some more. And then it was time to go.
Her memory drifts in from time to time, and again today as I walked lonely roads and a wild seashore, thinking of the stories I’ve heard here in South Carolina. How do we capture our collective wisdom? How do we draw on lessons learned so we are not doomed to learn them over again? How do we get people to recognize the rich fruits that are all around them?
We all have a story we’d like to tell, I suppose. But we don’t always have the chance. What an honor it is to hear those stories…to hear and see the beauty and wisdom that is all around us.
On Saturday, I’ll post the story of Rev. DeMett Jenkins from Charleston, South Carolina. We talked about the civil rights work her grandfather Esau Jenkins did on John’s Island, and it is the same work DeMett continues today. The conversation was rich, honest and powerful. I hope you will listen. I hope you’ll find that it feeds your soul, the way it did mine.
5 thoughts on “I remember”
Your description of the woman you met is perhaps the most beautiful piece of writing to ever touch my soul.
Thank you for that and the wisdom in the message.
Thanks Bob…she’d been on my heart all day for some reason. I wondered if I should bother writing about it, and now I’m glad I did.
Beautiful John. Yes, if we could someone harness the wisdom of those whose paths in life are long. Brings to mind one of my favorite Thoreau quotes. “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” Thanks for your exemplary commitment to bringing these stories to us.
Thank you so much for your heart-felt, thought provoking writing. I too think about the many people’s stories that are lost each day. Your writing today has inspired me to draw out and listen to the stories of people around me – both familiar & strangers.
Especially today… as I just found out that one of my friends here lost her home, all her material possessions in a fire. She still has her life & her stories.
Thanks for the reminder! Blessings, Kimiko (from Tokyo)
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Thanks for this note, Kimiko. I’m sorry about your friend who lost her home…I’m glad she is safe.