Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Twenty-four hours back at home is usually enough to annihilate any amount of vacation bliss. I'm fighting that hourly by closing my eyes whenever I hear the familiar noise of my life, trying to remember every detail of relaxed days away. I'm lucky to have a summer birthday because it usually means I'm traveling. This year, in Provence(!), I went horseback riding, galloping through vineyards, clouds of red field dirt trailing behind me. It gave new meaning to leaving something (or someone) behind in the dust. All I had to do was get on and go.
Before I left the country, I wrote about doing a reading from The Sweet By and By for the first time in a retirement community that included a nursing home facility. When my host suggested that we add the event to my calendar, I eagerly accepted. Then, standing in the parking lot prior to going inside, I panicked. What if the residents found me presumptuous about their experience? I had never lived what they were living. I looked up from the podium constantly, searching for signals. Outsider or insider? Accepted or rejected? When I took off my reading glasses (I do need them and not just for effect), I was met with big smiles and big laughter and bigger applause (and yes, some people even woke up). And then I got it. It wasn't the book, and definitely not me. They were clapping for themselves. The only thing I had done was try to see them, and they were grateful to be seen. One woman with shining blue eyes told me of a winter romance when she and her late husband met in their eighties. A soft-spoken man told me, through tears, of being homesick when he was sent to Chapel Hill (my alma mater), his first time ever away from home, to study meteorology for a short time before being shipped off to war. For each person, a story. And finally, another elegantly dressed old soul asked during the Q and A, "How long does it take to get a book published?" I tried to answer, but what do I know, really? She raised her hand again and asked the same question. Five times in a row she raised her hand and asked exactly the same thing. And I loved the fact that each time she asked, it was as though she had thought of a brand new idea. Which is more than I can say for the author.