Just this week, one of my friends posted that she no longer has 4 children in the single digits. She ended with… ‘How did this happen?!’ And here I am just past the 4 teenagers stage – with one who’s 20!! And it feels like they are my children still – but not – at the same time.
When I drove down to see Jessi for the weekend at her college, she introduced me to ‘her new people’ -her new housemates, her new college friends, her new friends at church, and her new co-workers.
Oh and we had fun! We rode the sky train and I’m sure there wasn’t a person there who didn’t know it was new to me. I wasn’t uncomfortable or nervous (except on the escalators on the way to the platform – but I am definitely improving with those). I just was having too much fun. As we were climbing on and getting a seat, I heard a band tuning up. I asked Jessi, “What is that?” “What?” she answered. “That band… ” and I hummed the note I was hearing. Then they changed chords a few times and I followed along with my humming. They were almost in tune now and I figured there was some dignitary they were getting ready to meet at the station. (Yes – I’ve watched too many ‘Little House on the Prairie’ episodes.) Then the sky train beeped its 1-4-8-1 cadence and we were off. At the next stop, I heard the band again and I figured the train must be circling around a central area. I called Jessi’s attention to it again. She heard it this time and smiled. “Mom… that’s the brakes of the train.” She was right, of course. This was her new space. But, now that I’ve said this, I dare you to ride the sky train in Vancouver without hearing that band tuning up. [If you can’t figure out the chord progression of the cadence of the brakes – just ask Jess or me. We music geeks spent a good portion of our time after that figuring it out and wishing Caleb was there to speed things along.]
Then it started to sink in. She has new people. She has new transport and new cafes and a new life that she is creating, piecing together. More importantly she has a new life that I am NOT piecing together. You see that’s different. I used to have quite a hand in who was pieced into my children’s lives -who we had over to play, which families came for dinner, which shows they could watch , who I would drive my children to go see. It used to be me that decided these things. And yes- that has been changing gradually for some time now. But there’s no ignoring it when you are being introduced to your daughter’s new life.
And you know? It felt OK. It felt great, actually. I loved having her show me around. I loved walking to the lake ‘that felt closer on her bus route’ and experiencing the beauty of her new place. I loved seeing her dive in to her responsibilities and I loved eating her groceries.
But I especially loved having coffee with her. Yes – we nearly got lost getting there. Yes, the people serving the coffee were late opening the shop and flew in all apologies and bustle. But we got to sit and sip some the best coffee and hot chocolate that we have had. We shazam’d a song. We FaceTime’d with Jeff. But mostly we just sipped and soaked in the moments together.
He helped me figure out the code to open the doors at the Village at Smith Creek continuing care center one evening. I had just finished my visit with Veronica and hadn’t realized the code had changed until I tried the old code to find it didn’t work.
Glen was always helping out or sitting at the corner table next to Linda, his wife. She sat as she always did – in a wheelchair, her head tilted to the side, eyes closed – with beautiful smooth silver-grey hair. She has been at Smith Creek for the last 12 years so Glen knows all about the ins and outs of everything that happens there. He knows who has moved in, who takes coffee or tea, who has changed tables, who is fighting with her husband, who needs a chair for supper and who has a wheelchair instead. And he knows when someone has died.
He was the first person who spoke to me there the day Veronica died. I had been at her bedside all night as she was in palliative care. I was just coming back in to check on her and glanced ahead of me to see someone say something to Veronica’s mom. She quickened her laborious gait and wailed aloud in grief. I knew Veronica was gone before Glen told me.
“You missed her by 10 minutes” he said as he poured me a cup of hot tea from the carafe waiting there. I sat at his table (affectionately referred to as his ‘office’ by both of us). Veronica’s family was in saying goodbye and, as I was relatively new in her life, I gave them their space. I had started the habit of stopping by Glen’s office on my way in and out just to chat and see how he and Linda were doing. He’s quick to pick on me in a way that makes me feel welcome. And he offers me a cup of tea and a chair.
“You’re not going to stop coming now, are you?” Glen asked me. I hadn’t thought about it really. I had been coming by once a week for about 5 years and I never once thought about what I would do once Veronica was gone. “As long as your office is still open,” I found myself responding.
And I look forward to Tuesday Tea Time. He forgoes getting the coffee and tea for all the other residents on Tuesday afternoons. He says that way the people who are paid to do it remember how to do their jobs. Instead, I get a hug, a cup of tea, and a listening ear. He now, along with knowing all about everyone at Smith Creek, knows all about me. He asks me why I do what I do and tells me what he thinks I should do instead. I find out if anything other than status quo has happened in his week. And we always end up laughing – usually at me. He feeds Linda her supper not even realizing that his listening ear and generous heart are at the same time feeding my soul.
I was all alone in a McDonald’s playground area. I had dropped off Seth for morning preschool and had brought my book with me so I could enjoy a few moments to myself. We had just moved to Jamestown and I didn’t have any friends yet. Sitting quietly reading with sun shining down on my face and simple black coffee in hand with no demands sounded so peaceful to me.
I had only read one page and someone walked up to my table. He was about 3 decades older than me. I glanced up and smiled when he said, “Hi”, then went back to my book. I turned a page I hadn’t read. (If someone has a book and is actively reading, it sends a clear message – doesn’t it? I mean, isn’t it obvious that I wasn’t looking to chat?)
He didn’t get it. He sat at the table right next to mine and asked how I was. I short answered him with a smile and kept reading. He asked how my book was. I wanted to say, “Well, I could tell you how the book is if you would give me a chance to read it,” but instead I sighed inwardly and put my book down.
God’s voice in my head reminded me that the only way to meet people and make any difference in anyone’s life is to engage. So I did. We actually had a great conversation. He was a most interesting man. He told me about Jamestown and its brick streets. He told me about how it used to be thriving with new businesses back when he had moved there years ago. He sorrowed over what changes had come about.
Right before he left, he stood and said the strangest thing, “You have nice teeth.” He nodded and walked out the door before I had a chance to respond. Good thing too! Because how do you respond to that? It sounds like something you say when deciding whether or not to buy a horse. And my teeth are actually a little crooked -my parents didn’t believe in ‘changing the smile God gave me.’
But it was kind. And memorable. And a gift from a stranger. You just never know what someone might say if you put your book down for a minute. Nice teeth. I know, it’s a strange compliment- but I’ll take it!
I set down my travel mug filled with Bengal Spice Tea on her side table and moved a small chair over to the edge of Veronica’s bed. Her new bed adjusted to help her sit up as it was now too hard to move her to the chair. The days of using a walker or wheelchair to enjoy the outdoor gardens are long past. We used to talk together but those days are nearly gone as well. She is having a hard time moving her finger along the letter chart to spell out words so we mostly watch TV together.
We watch cooking shows. I can’t conceive of why. Veronica hasn’t been able to eat for a while. The last soft loaf of bread I brought in for her was given away because her swallowing had become more difficult. She depends completely on the stomach tube now. But we’d still watch the cooking shows. I’d laugh and tell her she must think I needed help cooking. Her eyes would laugh with me.
You can tell a lot from someone’s eyes. Her room phone would ring and her eyes would dart toward the phone asking me to pick it up. I’d answer it and then hold it up to her ear so she could hear her mom talk to her. Her eyes would flicker in response to her mom’s words. They’d tear up and, even though I couldn’t understand the language being spoken on the phone, I knew her mom was saying how much she loved her. Calling her precious.
She could tell me to change the channel with her eyes too. I’d go for trial and error until her eyes said it was the correct channel. Sometimes she just gave up because I couldn’t figure it out. If Keith Urban was on, it was always the right channel. She loved his songs. She and her husband had recorded themselves singing his songs back when she was well and they were together. She didn’t hold the fact that he couldn’t handle her illness against him. She told me he did his best. Magda, her sister would stop by too. She’d talk enough for all of us. I would rarely find a pause long enough to comment. Her English was broken but her stories of the old country were fascinating and I’d sip my tea and listen. I could tell Veronica sometimes didn’t agree with the way her sister was telling a story – but she couldn’t verbally correct her. She’d just comment with her eyes.
I miss those tea times. Her mom welcomed me at her daughter’s funeral. I don’t see her, Todd or Magda any more but that’s OK. I learned so much about grace in that chair beside Veronica’s bed when her eyes could still speak.
“I’ll meet you for coffee…”
We all know that’s not what I mean. We almost never meet for the coffee. Sometimes we don’t even drink coffee at these coffee meetings because it’s the New Year and we are on some cleanse or something. But I have totally fallen in love with coffee times.
If you draw the continent of Africa and put a dot smack dab in the middle, you won’t be far from where I grew up. We went back to visit because I wanted my husband, Jeff, to feel the spongy grass under his feet at the airstrip and bounce over what passes as a dirt road. I wanted to climb over barb wire fences and walk through the cow pastures to market with him. But I never expected that there, in the middle of Africa, we’d discover the value of meeting for coffee.
There, you see, people just stop by. Abruhamu’s face was deeply lined when I was a child but when he stopped by for coffee he looked exactly the same as he always had even though I now had children of my own. He shook his finger at me telling me I was a daughter of Africa but I didn’t come back enough and I didn’t know the language well enough and I didn’t eat enough.
I didn’t know the language well but I did know enough to hear the welcome in that reprimanding finger and those half accusing words. He was yelling at me, but not for what I was doing – for the fact that I hadn’t done it sooner. So I sipped my tea in the smoky kitchen and watched him shuffle to a wooden chair. When he was settled, I brought over his cup and he put in so much sugar I knew it’d never dissolve. He sighed as he took a sweet sip then settled in to tell me his stories – stories of my dad as a kid, stories of his kids and their kids, stories no one else could tell in quite the same way.
When Jeff and I got back to New York, memories of connectedness over coffee fresh in our minds, we went out and bought 2 beautiful mugs. We planned on starting our own tradition of coffee times together. We still have our coffee times but now it looks a little different. Now our 4 teenagers join us in the early morning. Over coffee, we usually discover we have forgotten some school event, or are short one vehicle to get someone to work. Now we mock each other, argue, and laugh together- but we make it happen. Because we realize it’s not about the coffee –it’s about the meeting.