Wednesday, December 12, 2018

I'm Fine


          I had a headache.  My feet hurt.  My back was sore.  It was cold outside and I had things to get done.  I arrived at the UPS Store to find a long line of other procrastinators.  I took my place in line behind a woman about ten years my senior.  An attractive lady in the baby boomer uniform of jeggings, knee boots, and puffy vest, holding a Starbucks in one hand and a large overnight envelope in the other.  She stood as if she had not a care in the world.  She turned and smiled in greeting each time the door chimed, a gust of cold frosty air swept across her pink wrinkled face and blew her short silver hair from her bright blue eyes. 
            The door chimed, the chilly air swept a sigh through the room as a woman of equal age rushed in.  She spied her compatriot and quickly rushed to her side.  Now, we southern women greet one another in a time old fashion.  First, we squeal just a bit.  “Oh, my lort!  Ella May!  How in the world are you?  How’s your mommer and dem?”  Now keep in mind while this exchange begins our voices rise about two octaves and become twice as loud.  Second, we must hug.  Sometimes it is just a quick side hug; a quick squeeze and release.  If it is your church lady friend then it is the full-on greet your neighbor hug.  A front to front squeeze and a little bit longer linger.  If it is a long-lost friend who saved you from Bobby Joe in sixth grade in Dodgeball, then it is front to front full on bear hug that might or might not linger more than thirty seconds.   Finally, if it is that one friend that we all have, it is front to front full on bear hug with a back rub and a little squealing dance that usually last longer than is comfortable and might or might not end with a full-on mouth to mouth kiss.  This greeting was more in the Church Lady friend hug.
            The silver-haired woman was swept up into a hug while “Irma Jean!  How are you doing” was sung at a high loud pitch.   Irma Jean responded “I’m fine.  Just fine and how are you, Stacy?” 
            Stacy took a moment to quickly rundown the fact that her granddaughter was in her first year at S.M.U. and her son was getting ready to retire and he and his wife were going on a cruise.  She continued with the fact that she had just built a new house on the river and was getting ready to host the Sisters of Ruth annual Christmas party.  On and on she went about this and that.  Finally, she asked, “Irma Jean, how is your oldest daughter?”
Irma Jean smiled and wiped a tear from her eye “Oh, Tammy passed away last month.  The funeral was quite lovely.”
Stacy gasped “Oh, I am so sorry for your loss, I hadn’t heard.”  She squeezed Irma Jeans hand “And how is your husband?”
Irma Jean took a deep breath “Well, he’s on hospice.  You know his C.O.P.D. got really bad and then they found cancer and well, they don’t think he is going to make it to Christmas.  That is why I’m here mailing my Christmas cards.  I have things to get done before he goes.”
At this the room became quiet and the whole line of people was listening.  Stacy looked nervously around looking for a positive.  “Oh, I am so sorry.  Please send him mine and Jim’s best wishes.  We will be praying for him.  Now, your youngest daughter?  Is she still up in Denver?”
Irma shifted, took a sip of her coffee “Diane, is in a coma.  She is breathing on her own now but they don’t think she will come out of the coma.  She is in a nursing home here in town.  I go by and spend a couple of hours every morning with her.  Her husband has been a gem.”
             I am almost in tears.  The whole room is shifting from foot to foot and Stacy is speechless.    She clears her throat and marches on “Oh, my I hadn’t heard.  No wonder you haven’t been at the meetings or at church lately.  You have your hands full.  I almost hate to ask, but how is your son?”
            Irma sips her coffee and smiles “He had a heart attack last Monday.  They had to do a quadruple by-pass and he will be out of work for about six months.  They have moved in with me.  His wife has been such a God-send.  They have helped us catch up on the mortgage.  You know with all the medical bills I thought we were going to lose the farm.  They have helped so much and having all those kids around keeping the house active, has been really interesting.”
            I began ruminating on my complaints and realized, I had no complaints.  My life is good.  I am betting everyone in that room who was impatient and put-out about standing in line was feeling a little bit better about their life.   Then Stacy asked, “But Irma, how are you?”
            Irma Jean smiled a beaming smile “Oh honey, I’m fine.  Just fine.”
I wanted to scream “NO!  YOU ARE NOT FINE!!  YOUR LIFE IS SHIT!!!”  I wanted to give her one of those hugs where you linger too long and maybe even give her a big smooch.  I wanted to take her home with me and feed her chicken soup and wrap her in a blanket and let her watch sappy movies and drink hot cocoa. 
            Instead, I stood there.  I stood there a stranger to her, counting my blessings.  I stood there, my heart breaking for her.  Suddenly my back felt better, my headache wasn’t so bad and my feet were just fine. 
            At last, she made her way to the clerk, mailed her package and started out of the store.  One by one the patrons murmured to her “Merry Christmas, Irma Jean”.   “May God bless you, Irma Jean”. 
            It was my turn at the counter and the clerk asked: “how are you today?”
            “I am fine, truly fine” I answered.