I met a woman for the first time today. When she came in, she was trailed by two women of about the same age – mid sixties, I’d say. They were unremarkable, but she was one of those women who make you stop and steal another look, she was that attractive. Medium height and slim, her dark hair was pulled back into an elegant yet effortless low ponytail. Her clothes were fitted, her shoes casual but without a scuff. She had that informal gentility that said “upper class” in soft, measured tones.
Her attendants, as it turned out, were friends come to witness the conversation so that they could remind her later, if need be. And the need would arise, because she was suffering from some short term memory deficits appearing sooner than one would expect in her life. The fair-haired friend jotted one and two word notes in a purse-sized notebook. The brunette’s eyes swept back and forth between my face and the face of her friend, registering spoken words as well as facial expressions and nonverbal cues.
The woman had grown up and lived her life in the Midwest, she told me; marrying and raising her children, to retire triumphantly to the Gulf coast of Florida. “I thought I’d miss the snow,” she told me, smiling, “because I really do love the snow in the winter. But I didn’t, and I didn’t mind sweating either. That’s Florida!”
“She’s had a lot of stress in her life in the last year,” her dark haired friend offered. “Moving, divorce…” As if those two words were at the top of a hill that her life had rolled down, picking up steam in its descent. All four of us in the room understood the unspoken rest of the sentence. We shared an understanding that we have all rolled down a hill or two in our lives.
“I’m sorry,” I said to the woman. She nodded, and then smiled without sadness. It is her story. She has made peace with it all. I gave her my assessment of her current situation and my recommendations. I repeated it in small steps, and I wrote them down. She followed along with her well-manicured finger along the typed words as I read back what I had written, and now and again she gave a smile and a nod – she understood. If she were a cartoon, a bulb would have lit up above her head. I noticed that her friends reinforced those moments of understanding. “That’s right,” the blonde friend said encouragingly.
As they leave together, her confederates put their heads together, making plans. They will take steps between them to help make sure that the woman can follow my recommendations – visual reminders and alerts on her phone. The woman turns to thank me with a polite and dainty handshake and then, shyly, to touch her cheek against mine. With that brief contact, it is as if I can envision my own self ten years in the future.
Where will I live, I wonder? What will my life look like? Will the surrounding scenery be familiar or foreign, and who will be at my side? Will I have a lifetime love or will I depend on the constancy of trusted friends? Could I be so richly blessed as to have both?
Later, I wonder, is the woman happy? She is aware that her memory is stumbling. Is she afraid? She didn’t seem afraid today. She seemed to trust in my goodness, although we had never met before. I felt like she accepted where she was when she was with me today – with no burning wish to be anything or anywhere else. She is happy, I decide – at least for today. And that is enough – at least for today.