“I’ll tell you something about girls.” she said to me with a bountiful smile. She motioned with her work-chapped hands, “Girls are either up here in the attic, or they’re down in the basement. They are never in the middle.”
Meanwhile, playful screams echoed, much of them originating from the mouths of my two young boys, who chased and leapt and crashed about within the play structure at our local McDonald’s. Her statement was in response to my own lament about the trials of raising those rambunctious two. In other words, she was inferring, One day, you’ll be thankful they’re NOT girls. And she’s right; I know she’s right. Barbara’s right about a lot of things. Perseverance will do that – it’ll teach you things, and you’ll learn to be right where once you were wrong. But since perseverance also tends to breed humility, Barbara isn’t one of those people who needs to be right. She’s just wise, and she doesn’t care if someone else agrees, or not.
I am not overstating things when I say that Barbara is one of the most remarkable human beings I’ve ever encountered. There’s a voice that tends to play back in the lonely, ignored spaces of my mind; it repeats itself incessantly, like the pestering reminders of a neglected child, desperate to be heard over the worldly din. The voice states, “These are mediocre times…”
If it’s true – if these are mediocre times we are all fumbling through, and I don’t suppose many would argue that times are mediocre – then I can also say there is hope in the midst of it. For Barbara is mediocrity’s direct converse.
How I wish I could tell her backstory in greater detail, but (curse my confounded devotion to duty!) I did give Barbara my word that I would “keep it cool.” For, while an incredibly outgoing personality, Barbara is not flashy with her life. She’ll speak to you, whomever you may be and from wherever you may be, but she’ll speak to you; she’ll connect with you. You’ll not see her story splashed across the internet – not all of it, anyway. What I will tell you (I think I’m still in the confines of “keeping it cool”) is that I’ve observed Barbara, the way she interacts with people. I’ve seen her enthusiasm for life. I’ve seen her genuine care for others. I’ve seen the way she adores little children. What strikes me most, what shined brightly the day I chose to compose this writing, was her astounding youthfulness. Barbara is just about the youngest soul I’ve met. And this confounds me.
The longer I’ve travelled on this rickety, death-bound freight train through adulthood, the more I’ve tended toward the idea that living wears a person down. More aptly, giving wears a person down. Loving wears a person down. The more you love, the more you pour your life into others, the less there will be for you. But I tell myself that’s all fine because to give of yourself is to be obedient, to be like Jesus, and though we may have our vitality sucked from us in this life – much like a bat sucks the nectar from a piece of fruit – though we will each day find ourselves more exhausted, more dried out, more lacking in self than we were the day before, older than we were the day before, still we gain the proposition of an ethereal, bedazzling youthfulness on the flip side of eternity.
So, you can see why Barbara confounds me. She is giving; she is loving. But she’s so young – young on this side of eternity. She’s worked harder and sacrificed more than most anybody I’ve known – widowed as a young mother, left to raise three girls by herself, and she put each of them through college, each of them grew to become the sort of woman a parent can be proud of. She poured herself out for those girls. But she’s still so young.
Maybe loving people doesn’t kill us, not in the long run, anyway. Perhaps it makes us live. Mind you, I’m not speaking of pretentious love – not the scolding, suffocating sort that’s satirized by sitcom mothers – I mean the pure kind of love. I mean the kind of love that celebrates when someone else does well, when someone else receives recognition. I mean the kind of love that looks you in the eye when you’re speaking, because you are – your thoughts and feelings are – eternally important. I mean the kind of love that motivates a pleasantly retired woman to accept a part time hostess position at McDonald’s, so she may continue to touch the lives of people, so she may speak with lonely folks, and look on, flashing her magnificent smile as children gather for birthday parties. She is so young.
I don’t know how many more Saturdays I’ll be fortunate to see dear Barbara in the McDonald’s Playplace. She’s starting to get a bad case of what I’ve come to refer to as “itchy feet”. Barbara’s going to do some traveling. I don’t think she quite knows where she’s going to go, and even if she did – were she to tell me, she would make me swear to “keep it cool.” Most assuredly, you’ll not find her eroding away the hours on some leisure cruise. You’ll not find her attached to a mob of senior humanity, lock-in-step with some corny tour director. She’ll be guided only by the whims of those itchy feet and the passion in her soul that forever moves her to connect with her fellow human beings. She’ll be guided by love.
She’ll be staying young.
Categories: Faces In The Sea