A Stranger

I posted about this a couple years ago but a friend recently asked me to retell the story. So you old-timers might recognize this one.

Ten years ago I was going through radiation treatments for lymphoma. Every morning I drove an hour and a half to the cancer center, took off all my clothes, put on this robe, and sat in a room with others in their robes.

There was no socializing. There was little, if any, talking. Everything going on in that room was internalized. We were all head down, thoughts inward. Preparing for what we knew was coming, and how awful we were going to feel in a couple hours, and how sick we were going to be the rest of the day.

We were simply breathing. Grateful to be breathing, but able to do nothing more than take the next step right in front of us.

There was an older woman in that group. Short, steel-gray hair. She was always there before me, and when I walked in, she would lift her chin in greeting. We could manage an acknowledgement, but that was it.

Three or four years later I was in a grocery store, in the produce section, and happened to look up. And there she was. We met each other’s eyes and immediately burst into tears.

She was alive.

We hugged. We asked each other how the prognosis was going, how the healing was going. That’s when I found out she’d been in there for breast cancer.

And then we moved on to finish our shopping.

We never asked for each other’s name, or phone number, or email.

It was so random, to run into her there, of all places. That we happened to be, not just in the same town and the same store, but the same section at that exact same moment in time.

Years passed.

Two years ago I was…you guessed it…back at that same store. And there she was.

Once again, as soon as we met eyes, we were crying. We hugged. We asked those questions. Are you still free? She was. I wasn’t. I’d just finished another round of radiation and was still pretty sick. But I was able to tell her it was a precaution only and all was good. We cried some more.

We never asked for each other’s name, or phone number, or email.

She’s a complete stranger. I know nothing about who she is as a person, or what her family is like, or any of the myriad of stories we associate with those we know.

Yet I count her as a close friend.

And some day I’ll run into her again.

Then There’s This Question

Those who read this blog know I love any question that begins with ‘What if…’ and all the stories that question leads to. But over the past couple years I’ve been noticing a new question creeping in. Not sure I like it, not sure I want to ask it, definitely don’t want to hear the answer.

I think this new question has to do with the gray hair starting to come in. They both seemed to arrive at the same time.

‘Is this it?’

Not so much ‘is this the sum total of my life?’ or ‘is this who I am to be from here on out?’. Or even ‘is this all there is?’.

Those of course are deep questions that can be asked at any stage of life. But it’s not how I’ve been asking that question. It goes something more like this.

When a semi truck going way too fast on the narrow bridge over the Skykomish river confluence is way over into my lane and there’s no place to go but the river. That brief second before the driver gets the truck safely back into his lane.

When lying on the table with your breast covered in ultrasound goo.

When you’re feeling up your arm pit thinking, has the lymphoma come back?

When you’re standing in the pantry trying to remember what you went in there for, and then can’t remember if you even wanted to go to the pantry.

When you realize that the generation older than you is fading and you’re becoming that older generation.

It’s actually an odd thing to think about, but I assume as everyone ages they begin to wonder what their end will be like.

In a way, it’s a rather sick humor sort of version of the ‘what if’ question. That makes me laugh now that I think about it.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not brooding or even worried. It’s just occasionally the question pops into my head.

Is this it?

Well, not today. Today all is good.

Except for the housecleaning bit. But even that’s not so bad when music is blasting and the husband is helping and the dog is protecting me from the killer vacuum cleaner.