dreaminghope: (Zoey)
[personal profile] dreaminghope
We were waiting for the same suburban bus. He asked me for the time. I accidentally gave him the time the bus was coming instead of the actual time, and we started chatting when I caught him to correct myself.

He is 70 years old - a wiry, mid-60s-looking 70 - and his watch battery died today and we talked about old-fashioned watches you have to wind every day - like his Dad's watch - and new-fangled watches that wind themselves when you move and cool solar-powered watches, and his first TV, and computers you carry in your pocket, and that he is a psychologist who doesn't really believe in psychology anymore, and the time he went to a psychiatrist but walked right out because the doctor brought out his prescription pad right away, before even getting his name...

And we got on the bus and we talk about the over-prescription of Valium to women in the 1950s and '60s, and the corner store owner that got him and his friends all addicted to nicotine when they were kids by giving them free cigarettes until they were hooked, and that his wife is a social worker and his kids are all social workers and psychologists, and about how he doesn't usually drink, but he had a couple of shots of vodka with his friend today because it is his afternoon off from taking care of his wife who is dying of cancer...

Wait. Deep breath. Slow down.

They just found out a month ago that she has advanced ovarian cancer. It happened fast - one test was clear; the next, only 21 days later, showed cancer everywhere - but that's how it is with this type of cancer. Now he is learning all kinds of new things about medicines, about preventing bed sores, about what conversations really matter.

He says he isn't scared of dying, "but living scares the hell out of me".

He says that he knows she'll be waiting for him. He laughs when I say that she'll get all the paperwork filled out at the Pearly Gates for him. We're both crying a little.

These days, he likes to take public transit and talk to strangers. He talks to people in wheelchairs a lot; "they understand where I'm at". He feels really lucky, because he is healthy in both mind and body, he owns his own house, and he has enough money so that even if he lives to a hundred, he still won't have to go on social assistance. He feels really lucky to have his wife. They love each other very much and they have always gotten along and had great communication, though they had some professional differences of opinion. "I'll get to hold her hand while she is dying."

Before retiring, he used to work with abused kids: "It is amazing what a 10 year old can heal from. I still hear from some of the kids I used to work with. They went through such awful things, but now they are healthy, and they have happy families." He may not believe in psychology anymore, but he obviously helped people. We're both teary again.

We talk about work, and callings, and changing our little pieces of the world for the better using whatever gifts we have. We talk about gratitude. We talk about smiling. We talk about how the world would be better if more people knew that it is OK to cry:

"I wish I'd known that before my wife started dying."

"At least you got to learn it. It's cool that you are still learning things."

"The older I get, the more I realize that I know nothing."

We talk about learning from our parents. We talk about learning from everyone around us. We talk about people watching. He tells me that I should be a social worker. He is going to be alright, but he is sure going to miss his wife. We both have damp cheeks when I get off the bus.

Angus, wherever you are tonight, I am thinking of you and your wife. Thank you for the conversation.
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dreaminghope

February 2014

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