Little Words

MC Escher Three Worlds I
M.C. Escher Three Worlds, 1955

This morning I am thinking about a friend I use to know, when I lived in a different town.  I’ll call her “N”.  N has brain damage caused by an accident and a stroke.  I do not know how or when she got it; I never asked.  N has a speech tick, which means she communicates using only three, very limited sentences:  “Oh well”, “Oh, I don’t know about that”, and “Yes”.  She only shakes her head for “No”.

She smiles constantly.  It’s rare to see her frown or upset, because little upsets her.  N’s smile, crooked as it is, is horribly contagious.  She uses it to every advantage, often for non-verbal communication, such as *smile* Yes, I want that book, or *smile* More water please.

“Oh well” is her favorite phrase to use.  If we were playing a game and she didn’t win, Oh well.  If her drink spills over, Oh well.  She says the phrase in the exact tone, with open arms, EVERY TIME.  N and I met up about once a week for over a year.  In a “normal” relationship we would have known too much about each other by then, instead we built up a “getting use to each other” bond.

 

GETTING TO KNOW YOU?

I grew to like N.  I would come over and play BINGO, and read to her.  There was something more behind those eyes that made me curious.  I just didn’t feel like it my place to ask too many personal questions about her, so I didn’t.  However, the artifacts in her room gave a few hints of her life before the brain damage.  For example, on the middle of the wall, in clear view, space is committed to her full-nude self portrait, tastefully done in an abstract watercolor.  Judging by the style and frame it looked like it was from the late 1970’s.  She appears as a strong, confident woman, proud of her body.  Was N a feminist?

Many photos of her family, her children and grandchildren rest among books on the shelves, books about art, other languages, foreign countries, murder mysteries.  The frayed edges on the paperbacks suggest she’s read them all.  Sadly, the stroke took away her ability to read.  She holds her books, quietly in her lap; she loves to hold them, open to a page just right of middle.

 

DO YOU KNOW ME?

One month I was depressed.  After realizing my 20 year marriage was over, I walked around in a zombie state, adjusting to the thought of it.  Everything was foggy.   I analyzed and over analyzed everything.

It was fall, the season that readies us for winter.  I continued to see N.  Her big smile lit up my day.  Her unending, seemingly, optimistic attitude encouraged me.  However, I did not believe she was capable of recognizing my mood, the slight change in my behavior, until one day.

An afternoon in October, I wheeled her back to her bedroom after a BINGO game.  She smiled at me to open her curtains.  N has a wonderful garden view.  When I pushed back the curtains I was shocked to see the whole yard was covered in large, orange maple leafs!

“Wow!” I proclaimed from the window, “N, look at your yard!  All the leaves have fallen down!”

The majestic maple, older than the building we stood in, was barren of foliage.  Black branch tips wiggled like horse whips in the wind.  The once lush and lively view of iris stocks, azaleas, rhododendrons and lawn was gone, buried beneath the tree’s litter, cancelling out any hint of green.

She looked out.  Then at me.  Then out again.  Our eyes met.

With comical timing she opened her arms―“Oh well.”

We laughed together.  Her comment touched a tender spot in my heart, tears came down my face.

Tears came down N’s smiling face.

She was crying with me.

And I was thankful.

 

***

 

 

Forgiveness

As a writer I am often overtaken by my characters.  Trying to imagine what a new character is thinking, how they would walk, talk, what kind of clothes they wear and what they’ll do next is in the job description.  Yet sometimes I’ll have an encounter SO real that it seems more like entertaining a house guest instead of character development.  Visitation or not this interesting dream encounter with a former plantation slave moved me.
While working on copy for my radio blues program, Boosie’s Playhouse Classic Blues, an unexpected guess knocked on the door of my subconscious. Late one evening I was focused on the origin of the blues.  I learned that the blues started in the fields by slaves call and responding to each other in rhythm to help make the tedious work go by faster, and  to communicate with each other, sometimes in code.  Still thinking on this, I retired for the night, slipped under the covers and fell into a dream.
Visitation
In my dream I sat writing at a desk, wrestling with words, when the spirit of a man walked in and sat down across from me.  The outline of his form glowed giving no doubt that he crossed over from another world, the gateway behind him was blurred.  Lights in the room changed with his presence, turning from fluorescent to candlelight, the walls of the room from brick to log, and the furniture itself changed before my eyes from 21st century to the 19th.
Somehow, in my dream, I knew all about proper ghost etiquette.  When you meet a spirit it is like having the sensation of a butterfly landing on your cheek.  It is wonderful, yet you know instinctively how fragile they are.  You can scare them away with sudden movements or loud noises.  They do not want anything from you, but for you to listen.  Listen to their story, to hear their voice.  If you are fortunate enough to hear a spirit speak, do not ever forget what they tell you.  You must, out of respect for the dead, always remember what it is they tell you.  The only wish of the dead is to be remembered.  And so, I opened my understanding, while I waited for him to speak.
The ghost in my dream had beautiful dark skin, light brown cotton trousers hung from his hips and a loose fitting white shirt.  Broad shoulders and strong arms framed his torso.  He must of been, at least six feet tall when standing.  His demeanor, and this is most important, was like a deep river, moving peacefully.  He was going to talk to me; I could feel it, as long as I stay still, and so I did…
His large hand rubbed his face as he started to form words.  My ears perked up as his story filled my mind; his voice was warm,  “I came here to explain to you what it was like to be a slave.  Being a slave is to be tortured.  To have to no control over your life.  Your day and life are chosen for you, and yet you dream.  You dream of what you think freedom would be like.  You dream of control.  It seems youhave been hurt for a long time and prayed those silent prayers while enduring your pain, and that you kept walking through the pain. That is how I found you.”  The air tingled as his voice gave instruction,  “Listen now.  Being free, legally free, will not give you true freedom.  Until you forgive those that hurt you, you will always be bound up in chains!”
He continued using words and images as he told me his story. For half his life he was a slave in Georgia, then in 1866, he was a free man working as a sharecropper up North.  His children were born free, by his wife who wore his ring, in the home he owned.   His dream to control his own destiny came true, yet something was missing:  forgiveness.  Somehow along the way, he found forgiveness for the slave owners.  He said he knew those dark hearten torturers would never tell him they were sorry, they would never beg for his forgiveness, so to rid himself of the final burden HE forgave THEM.  Those mindless, faceless, nameless torturers of slaves, he forgave them.
The Gift of Forgiveness 
Forgiveness insures that the people who hurt us do not continue to hurt or have power over us.  You must forgive in order to move on.  I was overwhelmed with joy to hear my ghost friend share his story.  He left with a whisper as I woke with a jump.  I knew I had to write it all down, every detail!
Some believe that the power to forgive is a gift from heaven.  The Visitor’s comment “walking through my pain” was in reference to my recent divorce.   Many divorcees hold onto their hatred for their ex’s.  I have met ladies who hold onto hate.  I have seen how it keeps them from enjoying the new life they are trying to build for themselves.  Hate makes us sick!
If you really want to be free from hate, you have to forgive.  This is true for me; I know it without any doubt.
What an interesting dream.  I shall think on it for a long time.  I do not understand how or why I had this dream but I am thankful for it.  Perhaps it was my subconscious trying to make a personal connection between what I was working on and my past.  Or perhaps, just maybe, a spirit came to talk.
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