It still sits in the cup holder of my car. In unsteady handwriting, “Linda” with a phone number. I keep thinking I should give her a call.
Linda is a 70-something I met on the train a few weeks ago. Absorbed in my own world, distracted by a multitude of things going on in my own life, I was relieved to sit down on the train after a stressful day. I had my book and roughly an hour to decompress.
I don’t think I’m unlike many of you in that respect. We sit, keeping to ourselves on the bus or the train, lost in our own thoughts and the myriad circumstances that make up our private lives. Most people couldn’t guess at what is going on in our heads, let alone in our lives.
But I do believe the Lindas of the world might be here to save us from ourselves.
Linda sat down next to me despite a bevy of empty seats in my train car. It was mid-afternoon, a gloomy rainy day. She immediately extended her hand, “Hello, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Linda.” I introduced myself and smiled, shaking her hand. And then attempted to open my book.
“I just ran, really, all the way from the hospital downtown,” she said, breathlessly. “I’m a breast cancer survivor, 20 years. And my mammogram today was all clear!” She got tears in her eyes as she said the last bit.
As I told her how wonderful that was and how happy I was for her, she smiled. And then I tried again to open my book, not so much because I wanted to read but because I needed a place to stare so I could sort through the thoughts in my head about what was going on in my own life.
“I used to be a hairdresser, you know,” she said. And then: “Do you mind my talking to you like this?” To be honest, there was no way I could tell her I minded at all. Her happiness in the moment and her obvious need to talk spoke volumes. I can be preoccupied but I’m not obtuse; Linda needed to chat. I set the book aside.
She told me how her husband was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s shortly after she finished cancer treatment. How “back then” the disease really wasn’t well researched. How when he died, they closed the school at her church so a proper funeral could be held. It seems her husband was quite well loved by the church families.
That led to her talk about God. Her faith had gotten her through a lot, she said. But she now quibbles with God because he has left her lonely. Her kids live in another state, as do her grandkids—and it doesn’t sound like they visit much. Her best friend now doesn’t really go out because of complications from a hip replacement. “We used to have adventures together,” she said. “Go into the city and see a show. Try a new restaurant or eat at our favorite.” She has a hard time doing things alone, she said. “It’s just more lonely, even out of the house.”
I learned so much more that I won’t share here. Suffice to say, Linda—like all of us—has a story. Remarkable because it is hers but unremarkable in its own right. As so many of ours are. Days strung together doing very ordinary things until—a diagnosis. Or a childbirth. Or a death. The days in between, really, are where the living take place. But I think we forget that.
When I told Linda my stop was next up, she hastily dug for paper and pen in her purse. “We should get together some time, Kristine. Maybe we could go to that restaurant in your town you were telling me I should try?”
I smiled and said of course we should. I dutifully wrote my name and number on the piece of paper she offered me. And we said our farewells.
Such a happy person, I thought to myself. If there were more Lindas in the world who would reach out to break the general isolation, maybe we’d all fare a bit better. My father was a chatter. He brought light into people’s days when he got to the serious art of talking.
And then I happened to catch sight of Linda through the train glass, and I saw her face. The animation she had shown while talking to me was gone, replaced by a slightly sad look. Even the Lindas have their crosses to bear. I realized perhaps her head had been as full of unwelcome distractions as mine. That the weight she was feeling might have equaled mine that day.
That brings us to why her number still sits in my car cup holder. I do not really have the time right now even for my close friends, so I hesitate to bring a new “friend” into my precious free time. And yet, the look on her face remains with me. She made a valiant effort to reach out in her isolation. The least I can do is return the favor.
I’ll keep you posted. I’m hoping my better half prevails.
Thanks to all of you who asked where I’ve been and if all was ok. Those pesky adult responsibilities we sometimes call life got in the way of my first love, writing. But I’m still here. Still ticking. Still thankful for all of you.