I am away at the beach for three days with the sole purpose of sensory deprivation. I want less. Less sound. Less vibration. Less text alerts. Less of anything and everything that lets me know someone wants something from me.
Two days in, I’m so bored I’m climbing the walls. There is no Wi-Fi. I’ve received notice on my phone we are about to exceed our family data plan for the month. I’m “cheating,” checking e-mails, getting on Facebook, sending a text, making a call.
I’m bored and lonely and I never thought in a million years I’d be bored or lonely.
So, I drive the couple miles into town, and by town, I mean town. First stop is the local convenience store, which promises free Wi-Fi, espresso, used books, some videos for rent, and other sundries. I grab some saltwater taffy, light bulbs, a 6-pack of Mike’s Hard Lemonade, pay and ask for the password.
I sit down at one of two two-person tables with a vinyl sea-patterned tablecloth, and get to work. I reply to emails, I write a quick blog post, I “like” several things on Facebook. I’m about to order Wil’s graduation pictures that the professional took of him sort-of shaking the principal’s hand, when a woman wheels up next to me on a motorized scooter.
“Do you mind reaching in the back of my chair and getting out the charger? I’m heading over the bridge, and don’t want to run out of juice!” She is a large woman, spilling out over the chair, gray hair in a ponytail, a face that could be 40, 50 or 60. “The community all chipped in and got me this chair. Great community. I’ve only had it since February. Medicaid is buying me a new one in August. It’s great, now I’m not housebound. I can get out.”
I find the charger, and plug it in directly above my left shoulder. It appears we will be neighbors while her chair charges, as there is nowhere else for her to go, and the cord is not very long.
“Don’t let me bother you,” she says, as she sings the oldies songs that come on the radio, picks up the rocks that are 4 for $1.00, loudly expressing pleasure with each.
It’s clear that whatever nonsense I’ve got going on my computer screen is nothing compared to the story that this woman has, and so I venture in. “Are you from around?”
“I’m from everywhere. I’m Native American. I’m from Montana, I’m from Colorado, I’ve lived all over.”
“So, this community chipped in to buy you this chair? You must be well-loved by the community,” I offer.
“I am,” she smiles. “I’ve got a lot of health problems. I’ve got lupus. I’ve got fibromyalgia. I’ve got arthritis, the kind that’ll cripple ya. I’ve got epilepsy. I’ve got heart issues. I’ve got a lot of health issues. I'm going to give this chair back to the community when Medicaid gives me a new one. It's important to give back, pay it forward. My mom taught me it's important to give back. I like to help people."
She sees the Portland Marathon shirt I’m wearing and asks me about it. It feels cruel to go into too many details of my marathoning, while listening to her long list of health issues.
“I was only supposed to live until 21,” she says, “but I’m 48. I’ve defied the odds. I was a congenital twin. When we were separated at birth, by brother died. I’ve had issues ever since.”
I learned she lives in Section 8 housing with a care giver and the care giver’s husband. “Three’s a crowd, I’m moving out into my own apartment in August.”
I’m ashamed for the few minutes I buried my head in my non-important Internet “needs” while ignoring this woman who so clearly needed human connection.
“It’s not nice here very often, I try to get out when it is. I don’t like crowds much, but I don’t like being in my house all the time, either. “
I learn she takes 20 pills with breakfast, 10 with lunch and 30 with dinner. I learn she technically died three times just last month. “If you have something to say to someone, say it. Don’t take tomorrow for granted,” she wisely shares.
I learn that the life I thought I needed a break from, is a piece-of-cake compared to so many lives riddled with pain, suffering, poverty, isolation.
I learn that sometimes a need for connection goes beyond the tap, tap, tapping of the keyboard, straight into the eyes of a stranger.
“I think my chair is charged up, would you mind unplugging it, rolling up the cord and putting it in that pocket in the back?”
I do so and she asks, “Is my wallet back there? It has a dream-catcher on it. I want to make sure my caregiver put it in there.”
“It’s in here, “ I say.
I hope she catches her dreams.