“A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.”
~ Washington Irving
I’ve lost a lot of confidence with some daily activities while I’ve battled Lyme disease. One of them is driving. Lyme disease caused me vision problems and poor reflexes that until recently made driving safely impossible, but as my health has improved I have been talking about getting behind the wheel again. In the last month or so I’ve driven around the farm getting my confidence up, but I wasn’t feeling ready last week when Ben asked if I could follow him in our second car because he needed to visit a town thirty minutes drive away to have his vehicle serviced. His ride home had fallen through and there was no public transport. If I didn’t drive, he couldn’t go. It made me nauseous from anxiety. What if I couldn’t do it? Still, I agreed.
That first drive was nerve-wracking. My hands ached from clutching the steering wheel by the time I pulled in behind Ben’s car. But I’d done it! Ben drove us home, and we quietly celebrated the fact that I’d gained a little more of my old life back.
The next day Ben drove us both back in to Lismore, and then left me to bring the second car home.
To be out of the house, on my own… I struggle to explain how liberating it was, even as it took every fibre of my being to stay focused and to not give in to my anxiety.
After we swapped cars so Ben could bring the newly serviced truck home I stopped at a shopping centre and did a few chores on my own. My first unsupervised shopping trip in years. Oh the freedom of being able to decide where to go and how long to take! Of being able to please myself as I looked at clothes or laboured over yoghurt choices. When I finally returned to my vehicle I saw that Ben had left a swimming-pool water sample on the seat that he’d intended to drop off to a local store. I decided that I’d go there myself. Miss Independent. It felt marvellous.
I couldn’t get an easy park out front of the pool shop so I pulled up in the next block. As I got out of the car I saw him coming towards me. An older man, perhaps in his early seventies; thin and stooped, wearing a large faded dress over his shorts and shirt and pulling an old-fashioned wheeled shopping basket behind him. He looked so odd and awkward as he shuffled along. As he got closer I realised that he was crying, but his face was furrowed with determination.
I wondered if wearing a dress was an act of bravery regarding gender identity. It’s been in the news so much lately as Australia goes to a postal-vote plebiscite over marriage equality. Whatever it was, I could see the old man was struggling.
Walking over I asked him if he was okay, handing him a tissue to wipe away his tears. He nodded, without saying anything.
Are you lost, I asked.
No, he said. I am going shopping. I must go shopping. There’s no food left.
Then his story tumbled out. The man had lived with depression and social anxiety his whole life. It became so bad that ten years ago he had moved home with his elderly mother and she had taken care of him. He’d barely left the house in that time, and she had done all the grocery shopping and town duties. But his mum had passed away a few months ago. He hadn’t even gone to her funeral, although he’d wanted to. Now the cupboards were bare and he needed to shop. It had taken days to work up the courage.
There’s not a scrap of food left, he said. Nothing. And no-one to go now but me.
In the end, this man had put his mum’s dress on over his clothes, because then it felt like she was with him, keeping him safe. He didn’t care how it looked anymore. He just needed to eat. He just needed to get to the shops. It was the only thing he could think of to do. Her dress was a shield. A talisman. His only hope.
I asked him if he wanted me to go with him. No, he told me, standing straighter. I’ll be right. He wiped his face with a tissue, his hands big and gnarled and old. Then he put the tissue in the pocket of the dress, thanked me and kept walking. His courage and dignity broke me wide open and I cried for him as he continued his halting journey out into town.
As I drove home that afternoon I pondered what had happened.
What does it matter if a man wears a dress or not? What does it matter who a woman loves, or who a person marries? All that matters is kindness, and taking care of each other.
I understood a little of what it had cost him to leave the safety of the familiar and risk going out into the wider world. I hope each trip out into the world becomes easier, for him and for me. Freedom is wonderful, but it is not always easily grasped.
As always, I’m holding you in my prayers and meditations and sending love, Nicole xx