By: Gerri Graves

Word on the Street Issue 43, May 2024

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If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice my articles have had unusual names lately. My intention was a sly nudge into curiosity. I was hoping you’d take a gander at what you might not know.

If you watch the news at all, you’ll have noticed the extreme intolerance, the world over, of religions that are not our own. The human toll of this intolerance, rises still. With no end in sight.

Ignorance breeds hatred. Hatred of what we don’t know, understand or relate with. It’s an unfortunate side effect of being human……fearing, loathing of that which we have no knowledge. Fear of that unknown,  often turns into violence. Violence and extreme, remorseless decisions, that can’t be undone. When people are murdered at the hands of the intolerant…….they stay dead. Their story ends there. There’s no fix for death.

So my hope, was to introduce you to something new. I’ve based each article around the symbology of each sabbat, holiday or holy day. Next year, I’ll cover Muslim holy days…..and Buddhism after that. 

It’s a soft introduction of the previously unknown…..that I hope, will bring about a better understanding of non mainstream religions.

If you step out of the rhetoric that villifies an alt religion, you’ll see that we inhabit this planet with many faiths that promote peace, love and understanding. Not so scary. Right?

Plus, it’s a great writing exercise that forces me to mold each body of words around a fixed meaning.

With that being said…. Beltane: Growth,  fertility and the warming of the earth. A time for planting the future sustenance needed to survive a brutal winter.

I read Tolstoy. Not a fan. He rambled on and on about agriculture. In small doses, it would be interesting…..but chapter after chapter, boring as hell. I have no delusions that a repeat performance would land any better.

I had to approach this from a different perspective. The growth of a person. That,  sometimes the wisdom you associate with aging, is more of a regression of that wisdom…….

I was barely out of the gate when I met her. Homeless for maybe a week or less. She sat by herself, with her dog that she refused to let go of. I found out later that her dog she so loved, kept her out of many housing opportunities.

She explained that her companion had witnessed everything she had gone through and was the only one that remained at her side. How could she turn her back on her only friend?

When she phrased it that way, I understood. The selfless love that our furry families give to us, in our most needy hours, is unyielding. The rest of the world turns their collective backs under the pretense of disassociation. No one loves a needy person. No one wants to deal with the stressors that accompany a life coming undone. But your canine friend? Loves you regardless of any turn of fortune.

Over many conversations with her and her dog, I learned she had moved here from Hawaii, where she’d resided most of her life. Her daughter had died here in Idaho, and she assumed that her college age grandchildren would need family to lean on. She assumed wrong.

Family was everything to her…..and when she talked of them, her face would animate. Small upturned curve of her mouth, arched eyebrows and eyes that would meet mine when she was invested in that she spoke of.  Eyes that would punctuate the devotion of her heart and mind.

She spoke with intelligence. The intelligence of a well read, proud woman. Clear and precise sentences. Punctuated with phrases and words that betrayed her intellect. Not in a showy, forced way that some are guilty of when they try to prove something they are not, but more of a fluid, well practiced formation of thought that floated out of her mouth with minimal effort.

I like watching people do everyday, mundane tasks. That’s when you see the truth unveiled…..when they think no one is watching. Habitual movements and mannerisms acquired over a lifetime of repeat actions.

We’d talk over dinner about books, articles and her life in Hawaii. Always in between bites, as she was careful not to open her mouth when food occupied it. Her elbows never touching the table. Dabbing the corners of her mouth with a napkin that never left her hand during the course of the meal. Manners from a bygone era.

She spoke softly. Complete thoughts. Not a hint of slang or lazy shortcuts. Never interrupting…..but patiently awaiting her return to the conversation.

Some nights, she would cry. Swiftly returning to normalcy……as if some internal mechanism was sounding the break in her stoicism. I pretended not to notice. Giving her a tiny, private moment, in a place that lacked any semblance of privacy.

In her eighties, there was no return to the paradise she’d left. Alone in this high desert state- the very opposite of what she was missing. Bereft of family and friends. Homeless, aging, broke and broken.

I soon left for another shelter, but would drop by some books occasionally. Books I thought she might like.

I hadn’t seen her in quite awhile, a year to a year and a half, when I ran into her on my way to the grocery store. The place she had been staying, wouldn’t allow her to remain indoors during the day any longer. She was sat in her walker, under an old oak, with her trusty dog lain at her feet. I sat next to her and talked for awhile. Asked if she’d gotten the books I’d sent her.

She looked at me quizzically and said, “Do I know you?” I said yes and rattled off some of our conversations. She looked embarrassed and apologized, but that she didn’t remember.

Over the past year, I’ve run into her many times now. Each time, I’d have to reintroduce myself. It’s become apparent, she’s suffering from dementia.

Twice, I’ve found her fallen over and laying in the ground…..unable to get back up to her walker without any help. A man in a truck stopped once and lifted her frail, skinny body back up and into her chair. He wheeled her all the way home.

I thanked him for stopping, as there had been many cars that had driven by without aid. It’s almost sad that human kindness seems to come sparingly anymore in this mean, old world.

She’s staying at a seedy motel now. She’s unsure how she got there or how it’s being paid for. She only leaves the room to walk her dog.

I stop and talk when I can. Reintroducing myself, each time. There’s even a couple of times I’ve crossed the street to avoid her……as she seems so damn sad, that she doesn’t remember me. I feel guilty for reminding her of her condition.

I’ve taken to not mentioning that she already knows me, and introduce myself anew without the backstory. In this way, I can check up on her without any of the sadness that accompanies the knowledge of her declining mental state.

Her response to my change of etiquette, is clearly seen. She’s making a new friend everytime I see her, without the accompanying sorrow. I ask the name of her dog often, even though the pup runs at me when she sees me. She even remarked, “She acts like she knows you.” 

She’s pretty frail. Everytime I see her, I see less and less of that proud, intelligent woman I befriended two and a half years ago. I’m not sure how many days she has left.

At times, I feel rather sorry for myself and the predicament I find myself in. I do try to remember that I am not locked out of paradise, alone, homeless, in a strange place without family or friends and losing the one thing left to me that brought me comfort…….memories of a happier time.

Wisdom is the one thing left to us, when our bodies inevitably betray us. What an absolute tragedy that for some, even that goes. A  bright, intelligent woman’s light begins to dim…….and no one is around to hear the last stories she will ever tell.