People really are the most interesting creatures. I’m a people watcher. A student of human behavior.
When I go places I don’t mind chatting with strangers. You never know who you might meet or what you might learn if you look up from your own life for a second. As a general rule I try to make conversation with folks, but sometimes…well, sometimes it backfires. It did the other day.
I had taken my four month old in to the doctor for his well-check. I was wrangling a carseat, three year old and all the accoutrements while generally looking like a hot mess. I sat down and as I did an elderly woman nearby began to comment on my baby boy. I smiled, nodded and prepared for some light conversation.
She kept angrily muttering about the swelling in her feet. Then she began to criticize my daughter for rocking my son’s carseat a bit. She then asked me where I get diapers and if I used cotton diapers. I took her to mean cloth diapers, which I do use, and told her (and showed her) the diapers we have. This launched a story about her granddaughter who is in high school, pregnant and with a boyfriend who is “a lazy do nothing”. She repeated words of worry. How would she afford a baby? How would she be able to help with all of her own health needs crippling her? Then she stopped to criticize my daughter…again. Then she told me about her heart failure, cancer, arthritis, good-for-nothing kids, the storms that were sure to come this afternoon and the impending implosion of the American government.
When the nurse called our name I practically bolted through the door.
I can see her in my mind sitting feet straight out in front of her so that she wouldn’t miss a bit of the swelling. Her face layered in makeup, red lipstick caked on to hide her age. Her age that was apparent from her crackling voice trembling with each fear and harsh word she uttered. The stories we tell form a window into how we’ve lived. All she told me were stories of worry, fear, not enough.
Please don’t think me harsh. Nevermind, you’re fine to think that. I could have stopped to pray for her. Despite my own in-the-moment failings I truly do have compassion on this woman. Certainly she is suffering physically and I did my best to engage her during the time we sat together, but something else was going on in my head and heart as I listened to her string of concerns and over criticisms of my parenting.
There is an uglier truth for me behind this recount. I fear becoming like her. I fear my story, all the pieces of my life writing themselves in my day to day, might turn sour in my old age. I fear joy being deadened, strangled out by fear and worry.
Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. Proverbs 16:4 ESV
I don’t know my waiting room friend’s story. I don’t know how hard life has knocked her around. All I know is we are often formed by our experiences. Our bodies and minds made malleable by the force of our own set of ups and downs bending and bowing us as they press in.
The first question I ask other writers when I meet them is “How do you write from the middle of life?” A question I wrestle whenever I put pen to paper. Anais Nin is quoted as saying “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” I write and I roll these words around determined to find the honey. I believe it is there. I always want to find the sweetness in the story, even the bitter stories.
My thought is the woman in the waiting room could only taste the bitter in life. Her tastebuds deadened by too many things gone rotten. I only wonder if the sweetness was there, but rotted away with time and neglect.
I believe there is sweetness in my bitter. I believe the parts of my story I find hard to swallow have an aftertaste sweet as a honeycomb. The miscarriage. The mother I miss so much. The overseas life that broke my heart and shattered my reality. There is a rim of sweetness to it all. It is a reminder that nothing is wasted in the Kingdom of God.
Redemption is sweet.
I also believe that my telling and retelling of it ought to be grace sweetened with every recount. When I’m old and gray and the lipstick smears and the wrinkles can no longer be hidden I pray I tell it all true to that fact. I pray a young mama will sit for just a little while longer in my presence because of the way I tell my story.
Are you living your story well? How does that come out in the way you speak to others?