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Waves of Hope
June 20, 2005

I commute two hours for work every day. One hour in the morning, one hour at night. The rides to and from get really boring so I try find little distractions along the way, anything to keep it interesting. A new song on a different stretch of road, surveying other people’s landscapes and their bloom times, driving a new route or stopping at a different coffee place every couple months, switching to a new vehicle every couple years, making an unexpected pit stop along the way, but I’m running out of material. Lately I’ve taken to observing people in their natural habitats, letting my mind wander off imagining what life might be like for them.

This morning there was an elderly woman sitting on her front stoop eating a piece of fruit while seeing her Grandson off to the school bus. She moved here from an impoverished country some 40 years ago, maybe Ecuador or Columbia. You could see it in the lines on her face, the furrow of her brow, her pastel flowered top, soiled skirt, and bare feet. Her hair was peppered gray and pinned up in a messy bun. She looks like she’s had a really hard life, but in a superbly, honest, honorable way. I bet she makes a mean loaf of bread. I imagine her working 12-hour shifts in a factory or washing dishes somewhere for minimum wage, coming home exhausted pounding out dough on a wooden block in a cramped city apartment year after year. She earns a modest living, just enough to support her family, to give them all the things she never had growing up in a foreign land of struggle. The boy is clearly of the same descent but he looks to be very americanized. He’s wearing a soccer shirt, Sharks Tale backpack, and brand new Nikes. The school bus is stopped waiting but the boy is schlepping and shuffling, dragging his feet underneath him. He’s taking his sweet old time to get on the bus. (I’m slightly annoyed because I’m already running late for work, as usual.) He finally makes it to the bus door, looks back and waves goodbye to his beloved Abuelita. And in that moment I am moved, almost to tears by the beaming look of accomplishment and pride she is wearing on her wrinkled, weathered face. It is so visible and brilliant that it penetrates me from 100 yards and three car lengths away. I can practically envision the last 50 years of her hardships, failures, and successes flash by as she sends her young grandson off to a better life, the one she only ever dreamed of. In him, she realizes that anything is possible. She is full of hope and promise for his future. If he works hard, he could earn a scholarship and be the first one in their family to go to college. He could become a doctor, a lawyer; someday he will raise his own children and tell them great, exaggerated tales of his noble Abuela growing up in their native land. How she was too poor to attend school, or afford shoes, how she milked goats, grew their own vegetables, slaughtered their own meat and how she sacrificed everything for the betterment of their family. She won’t live to see those days of course but she is imagining it all now in that 20 second walk to the bus. She is content in a full circle kind of way. I am humbled and I admire her. I hope I can feel that good about what I’ve accomplished when I reach her age.

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At the next bus stop there are two young mothers in their mid 30’s. Each is carrying around an extra 20 pounds of weight on their unkempt frames. The same twenty they’ve been trying to lose eversince their pregnancies seven years ago. Both are very plain looking, hair thrown up haphazardly in loose pony tails, dark circles under their eyes and they are sporting dated exercise clothing. Their kids get on the bus and the mothers wave goodbye with gleeful, encouraging smiles. This is their favorite time of day when 4 times a week they walk together. It’s their “girl time” to exercise, talk and vent about life’s frustrations, but mostly just to rip apart their husbands and then put them back together again, piece by agonizing piece. The brunette is upset about the new 24 year old well-augmented secretary at her husband’s office. She prances about in short skirts telling lavish tales of her weekend sexcapades to her male coworkers. It’s especially disturbing because that’s exactly how she met her husband when they used to work together. She used to be the new office hottie back when she finally landed him at the Corporate Christmas party of ‘96. Flash forward 10 years and the girl is really just a newer, improved version of herself. Now she struggles with trust in her marriage, fear of infidelity, and feeling undesirable, as each monotonous day strips away one more layer of her external beauty. Her only relief and vindication is these daily walks with her neighbor friend, that and the weekly reruns of Desperate Housewives.

Her friend is in a similar situation. Her husband is out late every night at his baseball games, drinking with the boys, shouldering her with all the responsibility of day-to-day parenting. He doesn’t even make it home in time to tuck the kids into bed or read them a book. She feels like a single parent and she might as well be. They stopped making love years ago and except for the occasional couples night out once a month, they don’t really go too many places together anymore. But these women, they have each other and for one full hour every morning they feel alive again, energized, fit, and hopeful that things will improve. They swap strategies. “Therapy worked for Dawn, if only you can convince him to go to counseling or read Men are from Mars” one rationalizes to the other. “How risky ARE boob jobs? Maybe that’s the “lift” you need to spice things up.” Their talk meanders with each power step, they gab about PTA meetings, playing matchmaker with their single friends, about how unattractive they feel, about obligations, and never having enough time for themselves. They talk about how they've given their husbands the best years of their life and for what? Destroying their bodies to create life, in turn sacrificing their own. They are disillusioned; it’s not the fairy tale they always imagined. But they so look forward to their daily hour together. Their walks are about empathy, sharing, bonding with another living breathing human who “gets it”. It’s about the female need to feel understood and validated. By the end of the walk they both start to feel better, even hopeful that things will turn around. They each retire into their own houses, strip off their Target sweats and smelly socks, where standing naked in front of the bathroom mirror comes the stark realization that no matter how many one hour power walks they go on, nothing will ever make them look like Eva Longoria again, but the secretary does.

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Just up the street a ways, there is a house with a ramp and each morning I pass by there is a hospice bus parked in the driveway with disabled people moving in and out. I think it must be a home for some sort of outreach handicap program. And every night on way home at exactly 5:15, I see this woman who likes to sit in the front yard in her wheelchair. Her head sort of slopes down to the right side like she doesn’t have the motor function or neck muscles to support it; she might have had a stroke. She is very frail and helpless looking and my first instinct when I see her is always to feel sad. But I can’t because she is always smiling, always waving to the cars that drive by. That’s her thing, the thing she probably waits for all day that brings her peace and joy. I imagine what it must be like to be her, to be mentally challenged, physically broken and yet always mainstain that smile every day, without fail at 5:15. I imagine that her life is filled with an endless array of routines and details, that the familiar is her security. Breakfast at 8:00. Meds at 9:00. Physical therapy at 11:00. Lunch at Noon. Program Activity at 1:00, Rest at 3:00, Oprah at 4:00, 10 minutes to Wopner like Rainman, and Wave to passersby at 5:00. I imagine the space between her routines is filled with looking forward to the next routine. With no expectation or hope that her life will ever hold anything different than those daily patterns that have become so comforting. And what strikes me is how HAPPY she always is. It occurs to me that she might be onto something. If you have no hope and no desire for something more, then you can never be disappointed when the thing you desire doesn’t pan out the way that you hoped. How gently sublime! Because how much different am I actually from her? I have my habits. Wake at 6:00, Work by 8:30, Lunch at 1:30, Home by 6:00, Exercise until 7:30, Walk Pugsley at 8:00. She has just taught me an important lesson, this palsied woman who I don’t even know. She probably can’t speak or walk or even reason with herself and yet she has given me a gift that I’ll carry with me forever and use in my life’s work. She is pure and beautiful. And every night at exactly 5:15 on my way home, I roll down my dark tinted glass to make sure she can see me smiling as I wave back to her.

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In the screenplay, my protagonist will be driving a repetitive route that represents the unrealized potential of her life. Accidentally running into people who have important life lessons to teach her. Each one she must actualize before she can attain true happiness of her own. It will start in reverse chronological order with flashback sequences leading up to one heart pounding climax and an unpredictible twist that will take all three stories and tie them together into one neatly interwoven plot. I’d like my heroine to be played by Scarlet Johanson because she is a short feisty blonde with some dangerous curves. I do some of my best thinking when I’m in the car. If only I could find a way to write and drive at the same time.

Posted by Lori on June 20, 2005 7:41 AM permalink

 

 

Toni commented June 20, 2005 9:01 AM

Very nice! I have to admit that I, too, come up with stories of what goes on in a stranger's life as I pass. I'm particularly captured during the winter months when it turns dark so soon and you can see one or two lights on in a house...just what goes on behind those doors? Hubby thinks I'm crazy -- I'm just curious. Thanks for a great piece!

 

 

ScallyWag commented June 20, 2005 1:02 PM

That was awesome!!! So very real. Even made me cry at the end. No Joke!!

I never knew you could do all this. I mean we have definetly had alot of time go by in our relationship but HOLY CRAP!!

Adios!!

 

 

jim commented June 20, 2005 1:40 PM

Bravo!!! Outstanding...doing what you do best.

 

 

SL commented June 21, 2005 12:11 AM

SL, for what its worth, it is you that I admire. We've been friends (and sisters) for a long time and I'm always in awe of you when you pull one of these gems out of your hat. And to have two quotes side by side that say it all: Yours: 1) "She probably can’t speak or walk or even reason with herself and yet she has given me a gift that I’ll carry with me forever and use in my life’s work. She is pure and beautiful."
2) YMitch Albom's quote running alongside from one of my favorite books: "You have peace when you make it with yourself." You don't need the sweatlodge girlfriend :)

 

 

YSG commented June 22, 2005 10:38 PM

I hope that I am finally figuring out how to do comments...here goes...WOW MSG!!! What great reading! I am so impressed! I love this entry!
xoxoxo

 

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