Every day when I walk my dog Sunny, I pass by an elderly woman's house. Since she is at the end of our dead-end street, there is no way to avoid her house. She is waiting for me almost every day, without fail. When we first moved in, I found her kind of charming -- I listened to her stories about the neighborhood, her children, her long-dead husband, their business together, etc. After several months, I began to get irritated and silently wished that she wouldn't be waiting there each day. I just wanted to get my dog walk over with and get back home. I had heard all her stories and now was hearing them for the second or third time. I didn't have time for this; I needed to get home to work.
I tried varying the time of the walk in hopes that I would miss her. No luck -- she must have been watching for me from her living room. Suddenly one day she stopped meeting me outside. About a week later, she came back out, and I could tell she was upset. She told me that her son was pressuring her to move into an assisted living facility because he didn't have time to ''deal'' with her any longer. Her heart was breaking.
At that moment I realized how incredibly selfish and shallow I had been acting. What were 10 minutes out of my day to give to this woman who had no other friends or anyone else to talk to? Her son had stopped listening to her stories long ago and she had no one else to tell them to. I commiserated with her about how scary all this must be and told her that no matter what happened I was sure her son wanted her to be well cared for and safe.
I rarely see her outside now. When we do see each other, it is from a distance and most often is just a quick wave. She has no more stories to tell me, no more inquiries about my life, and she doesn't want to pet Sunny much anymore. Is she going down hill because she knows what her future holds, or are the reasons I am seeing less and less of her the very reasons her son wants her to move into assisted living? I don't know. But I do know that now I long for her to be waiting in her front yard like she used to. I would love to hear her stories about when her kids were small and our neighborhood was filled with young children playing outside and to see her face light up as she remembers better times. I am ashamed of my previous attitude and impatience.
I have learned a life lesson the hard way -- at someone else's expense -- but I am grateful for this lesson. My wish for all of us this holiday season is that when we feel irritated or impatient with someone, we take a deep breath and relax. Our time and attention could be more valuable to someone else than we realize. We have the power to make a big difference to the folks around us. May we enjoy the season and give of ourselves in the little ways that count the most.