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Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

An elephant in the room

Although I'm disappointed by the recent election results, a death in the family has a way of putting things into perspective.

An election is a moment that shifts power a bit, shifts perceptions a little or a lot, and leads the melodramatic to feelings of  hope or doom. The more practical among us move toward cynicism, resignation, or resolve.

But a death tears a hole in the fabric of our lives that is never quite mended. On Halloween, my former mother-in-law, Bernice McLaughlin, died. She was in her 100th year, and by most people's measures, they were good ones.

I hadn't seen her in a decade. That wasn't my choice but I respect the wishes of people who have different ideas about the way the world -- and the people who live in it -- should behave.

Whatever else happened in our still intertwined lives, I loved and enjoyed her most of the time. She was a wonderful mother-in-law, making and keeping a vow never to criticize or side against the people her children chose as mates.

She lived, as far as I can see, on Triscuits and chocolate. Slenderness was a huge value of hers, and for years she bought me clothes that were at least two sizes too small. Her daughters suggest it was a compliment. I'm pretty sure it was a hint.

She so disliked food that a visiting chaplain, wanting to assure her of her coming welcome in the next world, had to change his usual metaphor. "A great banquet will be prepared," he began, and then he caught the amused looks of her children. "Or in your case, a cocktail party."

That, or a table with books. This glamorous woman spent a lot more of her time teaching reading to children, just-released prisoners, and others who hadn't had her privilges than she spent socializing.

Despite our differences, we mainly got along and learned to appreciate the good and dismiss most of the bad in each other.

Last night I had an odd dream. I was working in a nursing home. There was an empty room, and in this room I put the elephant that had been sent to me. Every once in awhile, I'd toss it an apple or banana left over from someone's meal tray. Then I forgot about it until someone came running to me, frightened because the creature, starving, was growing rambunctious.

I ran to the refrigerator and found a bag of "baby" carrots and began tossing them to the elephant, knowing it wasn't enough. Thinking how silly to spend time and money grinding big carrots down into little ones just to raise the profit margin on them. Wondering how many mini-carrots it would take to restore the elephant's health.

Soon the other workers came with more food. One had found a bale of hay. A small woman, dressed better than the rest of us, led the elephant out of the room.

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On being alone

This was a two-funeral week, following a one-funeral week. So I’m long on reflection.

The first  this week was neighbor Jerry, the second cousin John.

Jerry had 17 years on John, but their lives had some common aspects. Both men loved being in the physical world. John was an athlete who operated on playing fields and golf courses. Jerry was an up-north guy who fished and hunted and spent endless hours working in his yard and gardens. Both had served in the armed forces. And both left behind the beautiful women they’d met and married when those women were still girls, really. Jerry and Ellen had been married 67 years, John and LeAnn 47.

I imagine when you’ve lived with someone that long, you grow entwined. You are like vines that bend and twist to fit around each other, nearly fused in places. When you take one vine away, the other still retains its shape.

There’s not much I know, but I do know there are no words to help. We say we are so sorry for your loss, we hold you in our thoughts and prayers, you are loved, I’m here if you need anything, let me do this for you, here’s a pot of soup I made: please eat it even if you think you’ll never eat again.

Mainly, we put our arms around each other and feel some sorrow together.

I also know something about being alone. It’s not the kind of thing you like to boast about. Most of us don’t seek that kind of knowledge. It’s foisted on us, one way or another.

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