What Do You Need?
There are more travelers than ever, particularly those who go on foot with very little, but also those with cars and bundles and long histories. Sometimes I am delighted to see or see again someone who sparks something interesting in my soul. Sometimes I inwardly sigh and think "I really don't want to deal with this, I am not a patient woman, I don't have resources and answers". I grumble inwardly, but...well, I answer the door. Or I sit with the person, meet the cat or the dog or the little bunny.
I thought today how fortunate I am to have these contacts and these lessons, over and over again. Gentle guidance towards learning...something I can't quite name. The privilege of providing a bit of sweetness sometimes, of balancing out the seeming grief and chaos of our lovely world.
Armen stopped by enroute to another country. I see him at intervals, sometimes with years between, but we always settle down and I get to hear where he was last, how the plum trees in Armenia are doing, why he is not ready to marry the nice Armenian girl, why his heart is drawn to the one in Argentina, what the skies are like in Finland, how you feel when you wake up with nothing on a roadside in Eastern Europe, what the sunset is like when you are leaving home. He is handsome and very young, for all his experiences, but comes and brings them to me like a bundle of pretty stones and treasures. "And then the Syrian witch told my fortune" he says. Sometimes I wonder where in those stories I might figure, with my flowers and my animals and cups of tea. He's easy for me, a taste of adventure and pleasure drifting by my shop like the scent of spices from far away. I send him off with another book of poetry and my blessings.
The visitors aren't always so easy. She is whitehaired and very thin, with sharp blue eyes. The man who brings her to me says she has been wandering and...what can we do. I find out later that she is well into her eighties. We sit and share stories; she is not linear, and she is cagey about letting me know very much. I ask her name, telling her my own, and she says "what name would you like me to tell you?" She tells me a name that is the name of the month and I wonder. She will not tell me any more, but as we chat she mentions that a grandchild worked at a restaurant in one of the towns some years ago. No, she will not name the grandchild or the restaurant. She claims to have lived here for decades, but I have not ever before seen her. And I wonder. I suggest the man take her to the public health folks,who can maybe assess her needs and her condition better than I, and then I sit and think about the handful of clues I have.
She mentioned burgers. Now, oddly, not many of the local restaurants serve those. I call the one most famous for them and ask to speak to the owner, who is not there and not due there for days. I almost hang up but then think...why not...and I tell the person on the line about the frail old woman and a possible grandson and....She immediately gives me a name. The young man has moved out of the area, indeed all the family is gone, but there is, she thinks, one person left, Jacob. He's friends with another young man.
As it happens, I know the young man who is supposedly friends with Jacob, and I call his dad. Who tells me Jacob is living with him. A few calls later and I know who my whitehaired visitor is, and where her daughters are, and that she goes on walkabout from time to time because, well, when you are 84 you don't like being told what to do.
Small towns are kind of nice that way.
The woman from the little nonprofit that has programs for the disabled brings in a very diffident man. She says "I don't know what to do, he needs everything, I don't know who to call, I brought him to you". My heart sinks. I don't have everything, the guy is very somber and very silent and heaven knows what the story is. The woman is anxious to hand him off to me. I talk about "well, there are so few resources" in a very disconnected way. The man is staring at his feet, he is uncomfortable, I feel terrible, searching through my mental list of agencies and helpers. There really aren't many. The guy apparently needs income, a place to live, food, friends, a new lease on life, direction, and possibly medical care. I don't have those things. I feel worse and worse and I know he is feeling bad and then, then I think...I don't have to solve everything.
I say "well, hi, I'm Kathy. What do you need right now, what could I help with right now?"
He'd most of all like to be able to call his dad. And maybe have a place to leave some of his things. And a glass of water.
Those are all so very easy, and with those he cheers up and starts solving his own problems. I laugh at this later, hoping I can remember that I only need to take one step at a time.
Today I was relaxing for a moment before opening the bookshop for the day's business. I was sipping my coffee and enjoying the quiet, feeling the luxury of having another fifteen minutes till I opened. It was sweet.
But then the man came to the door, a long time customer and friend. And I couldn't just let him stand there, though my heart grumbled and I felt very put upon. I said "I don't usually open for another few minutes, but come in" I'm sure my tone was anything but delighted.
"What can I do for you?" I asked, sighing. He said he just came to vent a bit. And then he told me his friend had just committed suicide, leaving a very messy situation. The vultures--not my lovely birds, but people with what he thought were material interests--were buzzing around.
There's a mother, there's a little girl, there's family, there's land, there's money.
And there is heartache and guilt and second guessing.
We talked a long while. I know the territory of suicide, and I know the territory of being a survivor. My coffee got cold, but I thought--we have to stay open to each other. We need to be able to respond to the knock or the sorrow, to the joy, to the immediate need.
There's no one else to talk to, said my grieving visitor. And there's nothing I can do, he said, I know that.
Stay centered, I said, try to stay compassionate. And come and talk, you know I'm here.
A strange place of privilege it is, being here, trying to be present, holding out at least a friendly hand for just the moment.