I sat on the bench in front of the magazine stand at Barnes and Noble, idly thumbing through glossy, ad driven publications I had no intention of buying.
Outside, the sky was spitting big drops of hot rain. Inside, the air conditioned store was crowded; All of the seats in the cafe were taken, the arm chairs by the windows were full and even the benches in front of the magazine stands were a little crowded.
In the manner of strangers politely ignoring each other, I and a portly little man dressed head to toe in blue, sat side by side, heads bent over our magazines, sharing a hard,wooden bench. Abruptly, he swiveled in my direction and said, "Excuse me."
"Yes?" I said.
He held up the home improvement magazine he'd been perusing and gestured toward the giant, two page photo spread of an immaculately ordered, multiple tiered, color coordinated clothes closet.
"Does your closet look like this?" he asked.
"No! I laughed. "In fact, right now, I can't even close the doors to my closet what with all the shoes and crap falling out all over the floor."
"Well, I can close the doors to my wife's and my closet," he said. "But it sure doesn't look like that."
"We've probably all got too much stuff now," I said. "It's unsustainable." Then, presuming our conversation ended, I went back to my magazine, when, to my surprise, he spoke again.
"I have to keep our closet door locked," he said. "My wife has Alzheimer's and she's always trying to pack up our clothes to go somewhere…some mythical place we've never lived."
I looked up and met his eyes. "My mother had Alzheimer's," I said.
"I'm sorry." he said. We sat in silence for a few seconds. Then I asked, "How long has your wife had Alzheimer's?"
"Between six and seven years."
"Oh," I said. "My mother was a very long lived Alzheimer's patient. She was in very good physical health. She just didn't have any mind."
"My wife too, he said. "She's in great physical shape."
"It's a terrible disease," I said.
"She has trouble at night," he said.
"Oh, she's a Sun Downer," I said.
"Yes!" he said, his voice sounding genuinely surprised and delighted to have found another person who understood the syndrome.
"My mother was a Sun Downer too," I said.
Then we both went back to our reading, but as I sat with my head in my magazine, I found myself wondering how often the poor fellow got out alone, if he had regular help looking after his wife, and if he had any idea how bleak a future with Alzheimer's was likely to be.
Alzheimer's can and often does last for twenty or more years, and it always gets worse.
After a few minutes, I put my magazine back on the news stand and went to look for my husband. I found him sitting in one of the big arm chairs on the far side of the store. He scooted over and I attempted to sit down next to him but didn't fit. We both laughed.
"We used to be smaller," I said.
"We used to be younger," he said.
I perched precariously on the edge of the chair and put my head on his chest. "Yes, but I didn't love you nearly as much back then, not like I do now," I said.
He stroked my shoulder and I told him about the conversation I'd just had with the fellow dressed in blue over in the magazine section. "He doesn't even look very old," I said. "About our age, maybe younger. What are you reading?" I asked.
He showed me the cover, "The Economist," he said.
"Are you gonna buy it?"
"No," he said, and closed it.
"You know, once you start talking to people, you find out that nearly everybody has some kind of tragedy. It's just the nature of life," I said.
"That's right," he said. "Everybody's got something. Or they will eventually. We all do."
"I guess the lucky ones just have one or two," I said. "Seems like a lot of people get tragedies by the dozen, one right on top of another."
We sat a few minutes more, by the window, not talking.
"Let's go," Bob said abruptly, slapping his knees.
As we walked toward the exit, I remembered an old saying: "Everybody's got to carry his own sack of rocks."
Looking around at all the people in the store, I wondered what kind of rocks they were carrying, even the children, for children have sorrows too. I thought about how some people haul immense boulders with grace and discretion while others make a huge, pity party splash out of every crummy little pebble in their sacks.
Some of us hide our rocks, I thought, while others can't wait to show them off.
And as I pondered, I concluded there's only one thing I know for sure: Everybody who visits this mortal plane will be burdened by their own sack of sorrows. Our only hope, as individuals, families, nations and even as a species is, I believe, mutual compassion for the universal tragedy of our common human existence.
As always, I ask you to share Dogwood Daughter with someone else today. I'm an independent artist, with no advertising other than word of mouth from kind folks like you. Thank you.
Be Well and Good Luck,