Monday, May 12, 2014

Lessons in Life

   Getting dressed was a struggle Friday morning. My legs were stiff and uncooperative. My balance was questionable, and every time I reached for something I was sure I’d fall from my perch on the bed and land on the floor. My frustration manifested itself in a string of obscenities. And I spewed a fresh load of invective when I looked at the clock and realized it had taken twenty-five minutes for me to get into my shirt, a pair of jeans, socks and shoes.
   Mom had emphysema. The smallest tasks were struggles for her. The twenty-five minutes it took for me to get dressed Friday was a fraction of the time it took Mom each and every day. There had to be days when she overwhelmed by the small chores she had once done quickly, easily and without thought. But she kept going.
   My favorite picture of Mom was taken a month before she died. She is sitting at a table, the day’s crossword puzzle and a glass of wine before her. The plastic tube attached to her nostrils feeds her oxygen. And Mom is smiling. It’s not the smile of someone told to smile for the camera. Mom is smiling the smile of a person enjoying the moment. There is a lesson in her smile.

   Last week, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website had a story about Ella Jane Custer, who was preparing to run in the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. Mrs. Custer is eighty-four. A half marathon is 13.1 miles. Her agenda for this summer includes half marathons in Wheeling, West Virginia, and Columbus, Ohio. Last year, at the age of eighty-three, Mrs. Custer ran in a half-marathon in Parkersburg, West Virginia, drove home to Wheeling, and ran in a 5K that evening.
   Back when I loitered at the Star Beacon’s sports desk, I had the opportunity to talk to some Ashtabula area runners who had competed in the Parkersburg race. The Mountain State’s topography was a challenge to each of them. And most of those runners were no more than half Mrs. Custer’s age. There is a lesson in her determination.

   Dixie was putting his clothes in the dryer when I got to the laundry room one recent evening. He and his wife had lived in one of the Covenant Woods’ duplexes. She died a couple of months ago, and he moved into an apartment.
   Dixie is blind. He was the only person in the laundry room when I got there. He ran into a problem when he tried to turn on the dryer. Apparently the dryer door was not completely shut. It was not opened enough that Dixie could feel it when he ran his finger along the rim. And it was not opened enough that I could tell by looking at it. Everything else appeared to be in order, however. On the theory that it couldn’t hurt and might help, I opened the dryer door and shut it with authority. The recalcitrant appliance sprang to life.
   When the washer was through with my stuff, and I was stuffing it in a dryer, Dixie asked which dryer I was using. I told him the one on the end. “Good,” he said. “The middle one doesn’t work very well.” From time to time Dixie went over to the dryer, opened the door, pulled out the clothes that were dry and put them in his basket. “The only things still in there are a couple knit shirts. They take a long time to dry.” Once they were dry and in the basket, Dixie held the basket with his left arm and used his right hand to guide him out of the laundry room and down the hall to his apartment. 
   There is a lesson in watching him keep on keeping on.

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