Sunday, July 15, 2012


In general, I don't like to compare myself to others - it serves no purpose, as it either belittles them, or myself.  A comparison is usually blatantly false, because humans are so complex and multi-faceted: I may envy a woman's gorgeous hair, but if she goes home to an abusive spouse, then what is there to envy?  And so on, you get the idea.

But yesterday I found myself in a comparison that I hope I never forget.

I ran into my neighbor, the one I labeled "crone" in a loving way: a woman of depth and wisdom and experience.  My neighbor friend, another divorcee with an only child, but who got divorced a decade ago and has reclaimed her life quite fully, who encourages me and is part of my support team, was coming over to share a glass of wine on my back deck, and when she was on her way she ran into the crone.

The crone's life is hard.  She has an abusive, alcoholic, diabetic husband who now suffers from dementia, and who requires constant care.  The crone does not buckle under this weight, because she declares that the Lord loves her and protects her.  It is the faith of a child, and it is a beautiful thing to witness.

Well, anyway, my neighbor friend and I glanced at each other, caught eyes, and instantly invited the crone to join us.  Her eyes lit up, but she was unsure - surely she'd be a bother?  She didn't want to be any trouble.....but no, we insisted she come.

We sat under the shade of an umbrella in the warm July sun, and I brought out a tray of wineglasses.  The crone said she hadn't had wine in years, and the neighbor and I gave her a quick quiz: were there any medications she was taking that would prevent her from drinking wine?  None revealed, we poured her a glass.

The wine loosened her tongue.  She told us about many things, including the people who had lived in our houses before us, and about her marriage, and her childhood.  The accent I couldn't place is Polish.

And she told us about Dachau.  About how when she was a girl her parents were taken away first, and then they took her to Dachau when she was twelve.

Twelve isn't so far away from Katherine's age, a comparison I couldn't help but make.  Both Katherine and the crone are blond (the crone still has thick blond hair, with gray hidden in it), and suddenly in that old woman's face I saw my daughter being ripped away from me, and I saw her being sent to be with strangers in the most horrific of circumstances imaginable.  I wept.  I could not stop.  I had to excuse myself a moment when there was a break in the story, in order to compose myself.

The crone took this in stride.  Her story has been inside her for too long, and she needed to tell it.  She never saw her parents again, never learned their story.

She told us of her marriage, too, and of some of the ugliness of it, and how it trapped her.  She told us of things that made my life seem like a walk in the park, with a parasol and a pet monkey and an ice cream cone and the most beautiful dress and the sun shining and the water sparkling and diamonds all around me.

Somehow the date came up, and the crone said, "No, really?"  It was her birthday.  Her 80th birthday.  She is so busy caring for her husband that she didn't know the date, and here she was, in her house slippers, taking the first break she'd had since who knows when, on her birthday.  I wished then that I had the most beautiful birthday cake in the world to give her, but lacking one, I cobbled together something silly but chocolate, put a candle in it, and we sang to her and made sure she made a wish.

My life is rich and blessed and secure and wonderful.  This woman has a heart of pure goodness and kindness, and she has experienced hell on earth, and she might still live in hell by most standards, but she allows kindness to rule her.

I have an education she envies.  (She supported her family - yes, her husband too - by cleaning banks at night.) I have a faith in my future she can not even dream of.  I have a family, and friends, in numbers too large to count.  And in my comparisons to this woman, I am so humbled that I can not put it in words.

Months ago I wrote of whales, how they were a sign sent to me to tell me of the shifts towards wonderful things in my life.  Well, yesterday, a beautiful 80 year old soul was sent to remind me of my good fortune, of the gifts in my life, and how I need to honor those gifts, and not squander them.

Thank you, universe, for sending me this beautiful person, for making sure I knew her story, for reminding me not to get trapped in my own narrative.  I am grateful.


  1. "When the Student is ready, the Teacher appears".

    I think that applies to both you and your sweet neighbor <3 How wonderful it is to read how open hearts and minds lead to connection between souls...

    1. She was a teacher, of so many things. Listening to her say that she couldn't leave her marriage, despite so much, made me even more determined to move out of my (not nearly as bad) marriage. But mostly, she just touched my soul - I've carried her face with me ever since then, though of her many times per day. Such gifts!

  2. These are the sort of comparisons that teach us so much, for example, to open ourselves up to encounters with those we might label and judge from a distance, and especially those who are older and with so much to teach us.

    Fascinating, Pollyanna.

    (And I'm guessing, hoping... that now she has a name, other than "The Crone." OMG. What a thought that someone might think of me - or any of us like that. The 84-year old mother of a friend, with whom I enjoy socializing, is elegant, interesting, and filled with humor. No "crones" on board... )

    1. I love my older friends, and learn so much from them.

      She does have a name, which I omitted for privacy reasons, but I use the term "crone" with love and respect. There are groups of women which have adopted the term as women of power, wisdom, and age, and I mean it in that sense. When I grow up, I want to be a crone. In great shoes. ;-)

  3. OK, this made me cry. Thank you for sharing this. It's an incredible reminder of how hard life was for most people until recently -- and actually probably still is.

    1. I do think that life is very, very hard for many people, and I'm ashamed at myself for believing my life is difficult in the context of so many problems in the world. So much pain in the world - even beside so much beauty. (The sunset off my back deck is just spectacular tonight....right over her house.)