After an afternoon of burning the pile of limbs and downed trees that have taken up the backside of our yard, The Mister and I smelled of fire and smoke. That is not an all together bad thing, not when it makes you think of BBQ and not when that thought makes The Mister hungry for Old Clinton, and especially not when he hollers at me from the shower as he washes away the smoky smell and says “Baby, after you get cleaned up let’s go get a BBQ sandwich for supper.”
Me and The Mister are at that stage in life where we can enjoy dinner with me talking a mile a minute and him hanging on my every word ( I say this with the slightest hint of sarcasm) or we can both enjoy the quiet, or he can watch the end of the Alabama/Tennessee game on the TV in the corner of the restaurant while I read the real estate magazine I picked up on the way in. I will let you guess which way things went tonight and the first two don’t count. While I flipped through pictures of overpriced houses, I glanced up to notice the couple coming in the door.
She looked like she may have been in her late sixties, a little plump with grey hair that looks as if it had been styled just this morning in the salon. Her husband followed behind her and looked a little older than she. With his stooped shoulders, he had the early beginnings of a shuffle and he was pushing what appeared to be a thirty year old woman in a wheelchair. I immediately could see it looked as if she could have cerebral palsy, or maybe a brain injury. Her thin legs were strapped in the chair and her short brown hair framed big brown eyes that wandered along in particular direction. Her arms bent at the elbows and waved haphazardly in a swaying motion that had neither rhythm or purpose.
And despite all reason or good manners I watched. I watched the older gentleman park her chair in front of the table and brush her hair back from her face and lean to kiss her forehead. It made me sad. I thought about the enormous burden he carried everyday and I wondered if the stooping of his shoulders was perhaps as much from that burden as from the apparent 70 years he carried.
I felt sad and so sorry for him. He went up to order and his wife took over as she attached a large bib around her daughters neck. Maybe the excitement of knowing it was time to eat or maybe just the feeling of restlessness caused this girl-woman to bellow loudly in impatience. Unintelligible noise gurgled up from inside her and she laughed. I thought how very similar it sounded to what I imagine my grandbaby will do this time next year. I watched the woman tenderly yet efficiently take her daughters hand that slapped aimlessly around and in a rhythm of a song that belonged to them from probably the last thirty years, the mother began to croon a soft tune and the daughter began to swing her hands to that beat and was quieted.
The waitress brings our food and I blink back tears. What kind of retirement does this little family of three have? How does it feel to wake up to care for a child that never grows up even though they grow older? How many dreams have died in the marriage of this man and woman?
I think these thoughts while The Mister asks God’s blessings over our food. And He thanks God for me and Big Girl and Baby Girl, and their boys and for our wee little peanut, asking God to protect her. And he has no idea with his back to this family the thoughts in my mind. I feel so sorry for this mama. I want to go to her and hug her and tell her to take the night off, that I will watch her woman-child so she can go to the movies with her husband. I want to ask her how she is holding up all these years of caring for this forever child. By the time The Mister finishes his prayer I feel those tears in my eyes again and I look up to see her and she is looking at me. Like she knows my thoughts. Like she has seen that look of pity before. And she smiles at me. The smile says “Don’t feel sorry for me”
The husband is now back with their food and they too bow their head to pray and the woman child grasps their hands while the man’s rich deep voices asks God’s blessings over their food and apparently over their woman child who loudly acknowledges this with her own version of a loud “Amen”. I know I have no business looking into their lives like this, but I cannot help myself. The man finishes the prayer and kisses the hand of his wife that he still holds in his. She smiles and I clearly see her tell him “I love you” as she reaches over and pats the face of her child who now is impatiently waiting to be fed.
And I realize that this woman does not need me to feel sorry for her. I realize that she has figured out her calling and finds joy in places I have no idea exist. I realize that the depth of love cannot always be measured in the scales this world offers. I realizes that maybe she could feel sorry for me in some ways.
As we pull out of the parking lot, I take one last look inside at this little family of three. The mother looks tired but is laughing along with the man over something. Apparently they are oblivious to their sad estate. Perhaps they know and refuse to be swallowed up in a lifetime of resentment or self pity. Maybe they know that joy comes from the deep desiring of God above desiring healthy children, or wealth or a comfortable retirement.
I don’t feel sorry for her. Not one bit.