Can You Imagine Us

April 24, 2007

Can you imagine us years from today,
Sharing a park bench quietly? . . .
Memory brushes the same years,
Silently sharing the same fears.

                      — Paul Simon, b. 1941
                          American singer-songwriter

My friend from yesterday was not at breakfast this morning. I’d chosen the later seating because at 7:00 I was really deep into a revision of the material I’d worked on yesterday, a fix for an awkward spot that had come to me in the shower last night. Father had told me yesterday, “I’m a good Jesuit. I rise at 5:00, twice a day,” his eyes twinkling with his little joke. I figured he’d been and gone. I grabbed a piece of fruit and a hard boiled egg and went back to work.

When I emerged from my encampment in the first floor library just before lunch, I saw him standing at the table in front of the bulletin board in the main hall. As I approached, I said, “Good afternoon, Father!”

“Oh, hello,” he said. “Are you one of the new nurses?”

I hesitated a moment. “No, I’m here for Sister Ann’s retreat. I’m Margaret.”

“Oh,” he said. “There was a lovely girl here yesterday named Margaret. She’s a writer. Do you know her?”

I hesitated once again, uncertain exactly how to respond. But as I used to say to my students, I am not as dumb as I look. “Yes, I do, Father,” I said.

“Well,” he said, “I’ve had my lunch, and my arthritis is really kicking up today. I’m going to take a nap. I’m a good Jesuit, you know. I rise at 5:00, twice a day.”

With that, he started up the central stairway that leads to the priests’ rooms. At the turn he stopped, and looked in my direction, and I couldn’t tell if maybe a knee or a hip had given him a twinge or if he’d suddenly made a connection between me and the “lovely girl” he’d talked to about novels.

The poignancy of the encounter followed me all day. I did some more fiction work and then took a nap, rising at 5:00 myself.

I’ve been here four days. The first program took me out of myself and helped me see that the joy and the creativity I have been experiencing for the past several months is good and right and working toward a noble purpose.

The next four days will be devoted to a program called Saying Yes to the Call of Aging. 

I’m feeling lots less jaunty tonight.

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