I stopped first at my local gas station where the attendant always speaks to me in such a friendly manner.
“How was that funeral you went to?” he asked. “It was in your home town, you said.”
“The funeral was really beautiful, but it was sad seeing the changes there. I went past a hospital that they’re tearing down now. I had to drive by twice to get it through my head that it would soon be gone.” As I spoke my thoughts strayed to the times we visited my mother there when she broke her hip, and our cheery aunts and uncles kept coming with sherry and little crystal glasses to drink it from, talk about your vanished world!
“The whole building was laid open,” I told him, “like a dollhouse, only with the roof gone too. It’s hard to see change like that, you know?”
“I know,” he said. “Oh, I know!”
He did know. Of course he knew. We are all refugees from the past.
I began my long drive then, and noticed after just the first few miles that the large box I had dropped on my foot just before leaving home was still ‘with’ me. Though it hadn’t hurt much at the time, a sharp pain was now radiating up my leg and into my hip..
I saw I had no choice. I would have to use the last of the fading light to get off the highway and buy some sort of analgesic.
This I did, literally limping into the first discount drug store I passed. I grabbed some Tylenol gel caps from the ‘pain’ aisle and limped out again, heading for the fast food joint next door in search of water to wash it down.
“What can I get you?” said the young woman behind the counter. “Oh, what’s wrong?” she added, reading the look on my face.
I told her. She gave me a big cup of water, no charge, and just as I was tipping back the two capsules she stopped me. “That’s Tylenol PM!” she cried, half a second before it had gone down my throat, thus saving untold numbers of motorists from sharing the road with a seeming narcoleptic.
I thanked her and got back on the highway.
There was traffic by then and it had begun to rain.
An hour passed. Two hours. Finally, just ten miles from my destination, I stopped to gather myself a bit and elevate my foot.
I chose the 99, a chain restaurant. I love all chain restaurants, for so many reasons: The breezy manner of the wait staff, the speediness of the service, the way they know right away that yes, you would like some popcorn while you’re looking over the menu and so they just bring it to you.
I ate and looked around and slowly my stress level ebbed.
And when I saw the little girl gently leading her blind grandpa by the hand to the booth their family had chosen, the stress went away completely. It went away because there, near the end of my long day, I realized what its lesson had been: That we are not alone in this life. That we too are led, escorted in a way, both by those we love and by kindly strangers.
This all happened last week. It was a good lesson to end the year on.