My job introduces me to so many lives, so many stories, that it becomes virtually impossible to get too wrapped up in my own little world. At least if I pay attention, ask the right questions, and listen, my small little existence shrinks down to minimal significance as amazing life stories unfold before me on a sturdy kitchen table or in a carefully decorated living room. Wednesday women blew me away with their stories, all day. I fear I cannot do them justice.
One lady gave birth to a bipolar daughter, her only child, until that lovely child of hers self medicated with alcohol and men. Her daughter gave birth to a beautiful boy who grew up calling his mother “Sister” and grandmother, “Mama.” Her daughter has since married an alcoholic and moves from low income housing to efficiency, bottle to bottle. But her one and only son has grown to be a fine, polite man and father of two brilliant little boys. “Mama” suffers from painful arthritis and other ailments, but never misses an opportunity to take care of her boy who in return takes care of her. The respect, honor, and love overwhelmed the room. The sorrow that man felt knowing the most crucial person in his life will someday be gone crushed everyone’s heart sitting at that kitchen table.
The second lady I met talks like a wild canary, flapping her wings and adjusting her flowing cardigan as if she were preening her breast, even as she shares how she (so far, she reminds me, “it will come back”) beat breast cancer. “I did it all backwards,” she said. “I started in Hawaii and as I aged I kept moving East until I landed in Madison, and I love it here.” Her best friend of over 20 years drew her to this frosty state, and when she talks of him, her eyes water and glimmer with joy. He’s dating some sweet woman, “but, you know, she’s not for me.” She won’t allow heartbreak or cancer slow her down. Every other night she attends her Livestrong Club or Gilda’s Club or some other club to connect, learn, and plan her next adventure. “Who knows where I’ll go next?” she says with an expressive swoosh of her wings, as if she envisions landing on a new exciting branch. “Who knows? But soon we should meet socially. We would have fun.”
And then my final meeting, a never-married woman, adored by all of her many nephews and nieces, shares only a few of what stories she can about her career in the Army back in the 50’s when women were kept very separate from the men. “I strongly believe that is the way it should be today. These women are not ready for battle and the men they report to rape them. They have no one to turn to for help or support.” She saw the surprise still stuck on my face about the separation of the sexes in the Army. “Oh yes, one man tried to pass through our barracks but he didn’t make it through. ” Her adorable mottled cat resumed batting at my pen and nibbling on the contracts as she spoke. “Oh yes. He got it pretty bad. One woman used a flash light on him. It was pretty ugly. They had to bring a stretcher and carry him away when the women were done with him. I didn’t participate, mind you. I saw what was going down and ran back to my bunk and hid. But no man ever tried to go to the women’s barracks again.” Her niece visited and proceeded to beam with pride. “This lady has the most amazing stories, and she can’t even tell us about most of them, all those years working in the Pentagon.” Her tiny meek aunt giggled and grinned. “Yes, most I really cannot tell anyone. There are a lot of stories. Oh, a lot of stories.”
What impressions will we leave behind? What stories do we write as we live out each day?
Is your life a creation story? A romantic comedy? An adventure novel? A political mystery?
Do you see yourself as the author of your own tale? Or the reader, the audience to every one else’s entertaining tales?