Three Minutes in the Sun
Repost from September 3, 2010
Rowan and I have a route that we walk almost every morning. I cherish those times. She loves to be in her stroller and I love to greet the morning sky in it's myriad of forms. Because our walks are generally kept to one or two routes we get to see the seasons expressions change from budding sprouts and bursting flowers to the wilting and drying up petals of yesterdays blossoms. Sometimes it seems we are expected by the stray cats that speckle the neighborhood around our house. They greet us, in their own way, and then carry on the very important business of being cats. Sometimes we see the same people and I flash back to my childhood and pretend for a moment that we are living in Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. The houses on our walks become familiar and I am grateful for the sense of "being at home" here.
There is one house that we walk past that stands out for me in particular. It is bungalow, painted a desolate blue/grey that makes me think that there must have been a sale on paint at one time for anyone to choose such a hue. It sits on a large corner lot, no flowers adorn its threshold and the grass seems to be in a permanent state of autumn. The house is memorable in itself but from time to time, when the curtains are drawn, I can see through the large bay window into a living space from yesteryear. Often, I see a man and a woman sitting upright staring into the center of their living room. One on the floral print chesterfield the other on a wooden chair, an old chair, but not near as old as the patron that it serves. The light that emanates through the windows is dusty. It's like it has been caught by the fixtures and furniture, trapped in time and unable to shine radiantly. The scene is both eerie and sad. I wonder if conversation, love and intimacy inside are also trapped in time.
Today as we walked past that house the old woman was coming out of the front door. It jarred me a little, to my shame, because I had created a fantasy in my mind as if these people were fixed in space like dolls in a dollhouse. She was holding a broom. The task of getting out the door and onto the concrete stairs that lead to them seemed insurmountable. She shimmied one way, then opened the door a bit more, shimmied the other, paused, then started again. I hoped with all my heart that she would see us and we could offer her a grand "hello" in a way that only a 13 month old could. But she never looked up. Her hair was twisted in curlers that seemed to have become a permanent part of her hair. A floral print dress hung on her tiny frame and seemed to be held in place by a heavy knit sweater. She wore bright white socks and modern slip on runners, which gave me relief presuming that someone must care for her to ensure such footwear. We continued past their house and she still wasn't out the door, but she seemed determined to tend her porch. I looked back those concrete steps once again and noticed, that from my vantage point, there wasn't a speck of dirt anywhere to be seen. As a young mother for whom sweeping my steps is a nuisance I felt humbled and sad. This frail woman struggles to get outside to tend a porch that doesn't need tending.
As we carried on I looked up and gave thanks for the bright morning, for the wispy clouds and gentle breeze. I realized all the assumptions I had made about this blue house and its residents. I assumed that this old woman was senile, making her way to sweep a dustless porch because there was nothing else to do, or because she had become an automaton, bound by dementia into compusively repeating tasks just to fill her day. But as I looked up at the blue sky those assumptions fell away and a voice fill my head: "perhaps, my dear, I just want a few minutes in the sun" was all it said. Humbled, and a bit embarassed, I carried on my walk wishing that all the brightness the sun has to offer would spend the next few minutes setting that woman's heart on fire. And that it would mine that day when dust sparkles in my own aged dollhouse and a dance-shuffle moves my sneakers into what may be the last sunny days of my life.