Jottings: Living with paradox
It was an everyday moment, a little link in the chain of life. And yet that moment lingers in my mind.
I was the observer wedged in the backseat of the car between a car pillow and a basket of snacks. In the front seat Nancy drove and Carolyn was in the passenger seat. Two goodhearted women but so different. We were lost in a maze of one-way streets in an unknown city.
The close quarters of the small sedan encapsulated us and magnified reactions.
Nancy was a plain woman of seventy, a master planner. She was coordinating the care of three separate elderly relatives so they could stay in their homes. She had minutely planned this eight-hour trip telling us where we would stop, when we could expect to arrive, what we should take. She was an accomplished weaver and wove her life in similar fashion. Variations from the pattern brought out an unconscious nervous gesture of fingertips touching her temple.
Carolyn was a delightful dumpling of a woman. Eighty years old but younger than both of us in spirit though I was only sixty. Her gray hair was carelessly pulled back in an off-center ponytail. Brown eyes twinkled with mischief and joy. She laughed at schedules and was ready to adventure down any side road. It was her desire to leave the highway and explore the center of this strange city that had led to this tense moment. Construction detours disoriented us. We had no GPS or map. No people on the sidewalk. No open business to give us directions.
Nancy's voice was tight, "We're going in circles. Somebody help me. Do you recognize any landmarks?"
Carolyn said, "Look at those beautiful Victorian homes, the turrets , the cutouts. We wouldn't see those if we weren't lost!" She offered no help with orientation.
Nancy's left hand went to her temple. Her jaw was tight. "I said I need help! I can't look at houses. Tell me how to get out of here, Carolyn!" Her right hand tightened on the steering wheel.
Carolyn cocked her head at Nancy. She knew we would not be here forever, that something would break open. She saw no reason to worry. A massive silence followed.
"We are now an hour behind schedule and I don't know how to get out of here!"
Carolyn couldn't stop herself, "Look at those redbud, the dogwood, the bank of forsythia. We are in a fairyland."
Nancy stiffened as my dog does when his feet are lifted from familiar ground. Her eyes widened as she fought back tears. I leaned forward, gently squeezed Nancy's shoulder, and pointed to a church steeple in the distance. We had passed it on entering the city.
Harmony was restored. We were soon on the highway with Carolyn declaring that seeing those homes was the best part of the travel.
Perhaps this moment stays because it reflects the voices at war in my own head. One self-righteous, focused voice produces and has something to show for her hours. The other voice says, "Stop, smell the roses. Appreciating beauty is the way to spend your hours." Both valid voices. One gift of aging has been learning to live with paradox. I can hold two seemingly opposite positions at the same time and be happy.
Cherie Dupuis is a member of the Jottings Group at The Lake Oswego Adult Community
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