(I wrote this back in August of 2007. It was buried on my computer, just brought to light last night. It made me smile. I hope you find encouragement and maybe a smile, too.)
A few miles beyond 'I can't take anymore' you'll find 'I just plain give up.' No more looking, hoping, or pondering the possibilities. Forget it.
That's where God met me on a warm Wednesday. He hurled a surprise right smack in front of me, completely out of the blue. If I didn't know better - and I'm not sure that I do - it was almost as if he were smirking and chuckling while doing a jig at my reaction, for it was a good one.
I live between the two nastiest old women God ever bestowed upon this earth. For 20 years I've been snapped at, hen-pecked, frowned upon, criticized, judged, my kids have been harassed, my dog has been abused, Tom and I have been falsely accused, the police have been called over nothing, my door has been violently knocked on only to be opened to one of the two yelling at me for some dumb thing such as my tree's branches were "hanging over the fence again!", or one of the kids dared to go "into my yard to fetch a ball without asking!, or "Your car is parked in front of my house!" Nooo, it's parked on the public street in front of my house, but oooooh maybe 6 inches beyond the property line if you eyeball it across the hood, tilt your head, and squint. Endless nastiness.
In my subsequent, unrealistically shell-shocked condition I'd begun to think that there were no sweet elderly women anymore, that they'd become extinct. The truth of the matter is that I have two particularly wonderful long-distance aunts, and there's a sweet lady at church I chit-chat with, and if I dig back far enough I can easily think of at least half a dozen truly kind octogenarians. But after 20 years of daily flinchy, twitchy fear at the sight and sound of these two grouchies, I had become too sardonic to notice - barring my aunties and acquaintance at church - a single positive, encouraging 70-90 year old role model, the type I could aspire to become should I live so long. I had concluded that most old ladies are mean.
Then I met Donna. On that Wednesday.
Cassie, Caroline, and I were waiting our turns in the hair salon. In walked Donna. She sat down to wait and commented that the reason it was taking so long was because it was a boy getting his hair cut, and she smiled a cute, non-threatening smile which set me at ease. Expecting the cynicism I'm used to from women her age I was confused when I experienced none. She was just being silly, and it was refreshing.
Thirty-minutes later my weary, hardened heart found hope pulsating gently inside a once fusty, darkened chamber. Transformation! Donna and I had had a kindred-spirited conversation which transcended our ages. We talked about our kids, our dogs, our cars, our homes, our philosophies of life and motherhood, of marriage, and country living. She spoke, I listened. I spoke, she listened. She actually listened to me and commented on what I said without snooty superiority or one-upmanship - or grouchiness. We spoke of current events, of learning disabilities, of the Homestead Act in Oregon, and she asked me, with interest, about home schooling. She told how much she enjoyed raising calves and about the quilts she was making her grandchildren.
Suddenly, the hair dresser called her name, "Donna." To be jolted out of this enjoyable, nurturing discussion back to the salon environment left us startled.
"Boy, the time sure flew!" she smiled.
As I paid for my daughters' hair cuts Donna spoke animatedly with Cassie and Caroline. All three were relaxed and smiling. I turned to tell this kind lady good-bye and was compelled to hug her. She opened her arms and hugged me the way my grandma used to, as if I meant the world to her.
It wasn't until our meeting ended that I realized I had experienced a longed-for thing. Verbalizing what I was thinking, as is my nature, I told the girls how much I enjoyed meeting Donna and, "There is someone for you to look up to, a nice old lady. You know, you can decide now what kind of 80 year old you will be: a nice one like Donna, or a mean one like B. or P."
"Mama, you know what she said to us while you were paying?" Cassie interjected while I took a breath. "She told us to model ourselves after you because you are a wonderful mother." Caroline smiled and nodded.
After two decades of personal assaults on my abilities, my character, and my choices to have an elderly woman say THAT about me?! It was like sinking hot, hike-weary feet into a cool mountain stream. A welcomed rush of energizing refreshment!
Out of the blue came this softening agent, this salve for my thickly scarred heart. This woman who crossed my path had reversed a 20 year horror in half an hour. Her kindness replaced scar-tissue with hope, with evidence not often seen. Here was the proof I'd longed for that a woman can indeed gracefully age beyond 80, maintaining the exuberance and curiosity of youth, while nestled in the acquired wisdom and compassion of a life well-lived. Such a woman is a force for good in a too-often depressing and dismal world.
My shroud of despair lifted.
God, thank you for Donna.