Eastern Mockingbird / Oil on black canvas / 5x7 / $68
YESTERDAY AFTERNOON, I cheered on the sidelines of a neighborhood bocce game, on Wachapreague's new bocce court, over by the firehouse.
I have no interest in bocce, but it was Jeannie's birthday, and I like Jeannie, and also most of the Wachapreague women (Wachawomen) who participate in these bocce things. And it was a beautiful October day, with golden sunshine and that particular sweet warmth that seems to come only on the heels of a crisp morning.
And I knew that my friend Liesl - Our Favorite Austrian - would be there. I had a pleasant time, chatting with Liesl and the girls, and as I walked home, I thought about how instrumental she has been in my healing after Peter's death.
She was one of the first to come by, in those early, awful days. She came with another neighbor, Anne, and they didn't insist on coming in, just stood on the doorstep and told me how sorry they were, gave me a pretty bag, and went away. In the bag was a sympathy card, a bag of chocolates and a bag of dog treats that instantly became my gang's favorite.
In time, Liesl began to visit, walking into the house, completely unafraid, even though at that point, the dogs were still wild and undisciplined, and Doc responded to his fear of everything by snarling and snapping at people.
She offered to help with them, and to my amazement, and out of necessity, I agreed to let her help.
Early in the winter - and it was this that I remembered yesterday - she invited me and a few others to her house for dinner.
To back up a little, a thing that happened after Peter's death was that I really couldn't see people. For weeks after he died, I didn't let anybody in the house. I drove to Maryland to do my grocery shopping, so that I wouldn't run into anyone I knew. I avoided the post office for so long that the postmistress, a truly kind person, called and asked if I would like her to bring me my mail. I said no, and she volunteered to stay late one day so I could come over after the post office closed, and get my mail, cutting down on the chance of running into anyone.
I don't understand the mechanisms of my need to see no one. I just knew that I couldn't, and that especially, I couldn't run into people unprepared.
Little by little, I came out of it, and so, in the winter, I agreed to go to supper at Liesl's. But as the day approached, I realized I couldn't. I could not sit at a table and make conversation with several people I knew only slightly - and, crying, I called her and told her.
She was as kind as could be, and insisted that I still come - but she would uninvite the others, who all were neighbors, and would understand. And so she did, and so I did.
I had known Liesl mostly from seeing her walking. She walked pretty much every day, as far as I could tell, sometimes with people, sometimes with people's dogs, sometimes alone - but her walking was a constant. I would admire her, straight and slim, striding - always with very good posture - through town.
When she asked if I would like to walk with her and the dogs, I said yes, and that, as much as anything, has changed my life, and helped speed and strengthen my recovery.
We have walked nearly every morning. The dogs have learned some manners, and have started to be socialized. The walks have brought me daily exercise, and fresh air, and have helped me start to be socialized again. They give me a way to start every day. A plan, a task, something regular and manageable.
They have brought me a friendship, too, which is perhaps the most valuable. Liesl is a good listener, an interesting person, and she makes me laugh. She is an inspiration, too, being helpful to people and animals and asking nothing in return. And she is 80! Often on our walks, I am out of breath and hurrying to catch up, and Our Favorite Austrian is just there, striding along, looking at this or that, laughing at the dogs, enjoying the morning.
Here is Liesl in the springtime, with Lulu and Koko. We walk three dogs most days,
and Liesl always takes two.
I Didn't Go to Church Today
I didn't go to church today
I trust the Lord to understand
The surf was swirling blue and white
The children swirling on the sand.
He knows, He knows how brief my stay,
How brief this stay of summer weather,
He knows when I am said and done
We'll have plenty of time together.
- Ogden Nash