By Paula Damon
“If the infinity of the sea may call out thus, perhaps when a [person] is growing old, calls come to him, too, from another infinity … more deeply mysterious; and the more … wearied by life the dearer are those calls…” – Henryk Sienkiewicz, 1842-1916, polish journalist, 1905 Nobel Peace Prize winner for literature
I am in the waiting room at the doctor’s office when I encounter the old woman.
Her lilting gate single-handedly gives the impression that she is casting off any cares, appearing as if no worries beset her.
Her shoulders lean forward, an apparent arthritic neck bends down. Her upward glance over the top of her glasses is the only thing with enough power to lift her head as far as it will go, which isn’t far.
With her hands gently clasped behind her back, the old woman follows the aide escort to the reception desk.
Not uttering a word, the elderly woman is humming a tune.
Speaking for the elderly woman, the young aid begins to check her in, but the receptionist knows the elder by name, exclaiming, “Well, hello there, Genevieve! Some weather we’re having out there, isn’t it?”
Still warbling behind her closed lips, Genevieve, who does not respond to the small talk, appears to have been a taller woman at one time, indicated by her long legs, long arms and extended torso. Now giving way to the gravitation pull of life itself, her stature is much slighter.
“Have a seat, Genevieve,” the receptionist loudly instructs the woman, who replies by humming the next bar of music.
As the aide turns toward the sea of seats in the waiting area, I catch a glimpse of the old woman’s face. Bright eyes defy her weathered skin, which descends in flaps and folds around her forehead, cheeks and neck. Rings of flesh, creased like keepsakes in a scrapbook, aptly recall struggles and strife over the span of her sojourn of what could be some 90 years or more.
The young aide heads toward the waiting room, guiding Genevieve, who cautiously follows, light-footed, almost childlike shuffling along, toe and heal, toe and heal. Carrying her along in perfect harmony is that melody, cradling her in the past.
The two plop down in adjoining seats. The aide, whom I imagine is fulfilling her employment duties, holds Genevieve’s hand, and then with the other raises her phone to her face, chuckling over an inaudible but apparently engaging string of text messages.
All the while, Miss Genevieve contentedly continues her trilling, fullthroat now. It’s as though she is keeping time with a choir set back in her freedom days, during her before-life, a place where she was independent, not having to rely on anyone’s strength or direction but her own.
Yet, when the nurse announces her name as the next patient to enter the exam room, Genevieve’s frailty and forgetfulness are on display when she spouts the only words I heard her speak, “I have no idea why I’m here.”
As I observe this lovely old lady, who is wearing a daintily flowered jacket over a starched collared blouse, slacks with creases straight down the front of her pant legs and shiny penny loafers, I surmise she once was in a church choir, a music instructor or a soloist.
I wonder about her children, perhaps old themselves. Have moved on? Or who knows, maybe they’ve already passed from this life.
For this former pillar, I presume, lovingly caressing tunes now waltz with her, as she travels into and out of reality, back and forth in time.
The music calling Genevieve stands as an immutable value upon value, blessing upon blessing.
Music has procured her a place, anchoring her into being, ratifying her old age. Duly noted here.