Kate arrived an hour and forty-five minutes into our two-hour long Writing and Well Being workshop. She neither removed her long black coat as she took her seat across from me, nor took out her notebook; simply rested the side of her weary face in her hand until we were through. At that time, she leaned over the table and whispered, “Mary, could I ask a favor? If it’s not too far for you, could you possibly give me a ride home?”
On the way to the parking lot, she paused with knowing sad eyes and made a decision I could see she had been wrestling with for at least the morning, probably longer. Then I noticed the overnight bag in her hand as she requested, “On second thought, I think my family can pick me up if you drop me at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center instead.” Of course I could.
The morning’s rain had changed to blinding snow, so it was some time before I was able to clear the car off. Although I offered the front seat, she insisted she was more comfortable in the back, nervous with other drivers and accustomed to riding in taxis. Although the Center was just a few miles away, the roads were treacherous. I could see the fear in Kate’s face in my rearview mirror. Not sure whether this was caused by the drive or her condition, I was especially cautious and mindful to keep her calm. As I drove, I thought about her. I knew very little about this delicate woman, not even her last name. I did know that treating amnesia brought her to our group and when she shared her work through our spontaneous writing exercises it was poetic and insightful genius. Her voice was soft and gentle as if speaking would harm her. I didn’t even know if the family she spoke of earlier was real or part of her fading memory.
She knew the route to the hospital well. When we arrived I helped her out of the back seat, held her tiny frame in a great big hug as we wished each other a Merry Christmas. It broke my heart to leave her there. She thanked me profusely for helping. I know it didn’t occur to her that she was the one doing me the favor.
With the weather conditions, it took me over an hour on side roads to complete the journey home, which ordinarily would take thirty minutes. That gave me time to contemplate what I had just experienced. As “Oh Holy Night” played on my car stereo, tears rolled down my cheeks. It was difficult to erase the image of Kate, her long white hair contrasting with her coat as she disappeared into the hospital through the fluffy flakes, grasping her bag. Only two weeks ago I had severed my ties with the mental health system that had sometimes helped, often frustrated me for nineteen years. Kate was evidence that it served its purpose, yet I so longed for her not to be there at Christmas or at all. My tears shifted from empathy to gratitude-driven as I thought of my own evolving holiday situation. I had earned the title “empty nester” recently when my son smiled and hugged me after stuffing his last trunk load saying, “You knew this day would come.” Indeed, but so soon?
It will be the first Christmas morning of my life waking up in a quiet house. Yet I am anything but alone. Christmas Eve will be spent with a large extended loving family, friends and feast. On Christmas day when I have heavenly peace, it will be in a warm house surrounded by nature. I’ll build a fire in the fireplace and curl up in a blanket with my notebook and a cup of tea. I’ll fondly reminisce about Christmas’ past and manifest the promises of 2018, which will bring a return to the beach in a big way and vocational transformation back to my true holistic self through new services at Capture Life Writing. Then at sunset I will lift a glass of wine in a toast to Kate thanking her for the unexpected Christmas message she delivered to my heart and send back that magic to her in the form of peace and love.
This season allows me to celebrate the light, as many traditions do. It’s represented in all religions and even Mother Nature shows us with the solstice. As I write this, she is showing it to me in the form of the sunlight glistening off of the ice on the branches of the mighty willows across the street. Stunning. I take this as a reminder of the light we have inside all of us and it brings me joy.
Wishing you all light, laughter and love this season.