At a passing glance …

This morning I was driving around Augusta, wasting time while our cleaning service cleaned our house, and I drove past this older woman standing outside the doorway to a small run-down apartment house.  I’m assuming she lived there because the door was open to one of the 2 apartments in this building, and she was leaning against the house.  The building was white but very dirty, like the owner didn’t care enough to power wash the outside of it every once in a while.  Or maybe they got their rent payments through Maine’s Chapter 8 Housing and they just don’t have enough money in their savings to do anything other than repairs addressing state regulated issues – like fire and safety, plumbing and sanitation – essentials, like that.  I could only guess as I drove by.

But it was the look this woman threw at me as I drove by that put a kink in my morning.  This portly, kind of stout, disheveled older woman with a severe case of blondish-grayed bed head, and wrinkles embedded into a completely “resting bitch face” accompanied by peering eyes under crunched up eyebrows and an intensely stern gaze that made me wonder what she actually thought of me as I drove by.

This older woman – probably in her late 60’s, maybe even in her 70’s. At least that’s what I thought when I initially looked at her.  And then I wondered, maybe she’s not that old.  Maybe living this type of lifestyle has made her look as old as she appears.  Maybe she’s not that old, at all.  And how would her age compare to the age of my Memere, who was still making every day work for herself and her family, well into her 60’s back in the 1980’s.  She could barely walk, the circulation in her legs was so poor her knees were bent in a bit, her ankles had little contour, if any.  Her toes seemed crooked, and the arthritis in her hands was so bad all her fingertips were permanently pointing in a completely unnatural direction.  I have yet to mention that memere had no teeth.  Not a single one.  She once told me she had false teeth made but there was this one single spot where they hit on her gums that was so painful she couldn’t wear them.  I’m assuming it was a bit too expensive for an elderly retired woman living off social security checks (from her years at a low wage mill job) to have them fixed.  Memere never ate solid “hard” food for, at least, 20 years, but I’m assuming the actual time frame was longer.

At least this woman standing out on the sidewalk seemed to have her teeth.  I mean, that’s something.  It brings a better quality of diet, and then life in general, when you can eat crunchy food, and hard foods… like fresh steamed broccoli, or (if you’re a meat eater) steak or chicken.  Memere ate well.  She was an amazing cook.  AMAZING.  She didn’t starve, in the least, and luckily for me, neither did I when I was with her (the memories of the smells that came from memere’s kitchen… oh… my…) but I’m sure having the physical aspects of her youth into her geriatric years would have made those later years more pleasant for her.

As I passed this woman, whose gaze peered into me with want and question, I wondered these things about her … was she portly because she was living off a diet of cheap and affordable highly processed foods and her gut health was compromised so many years ago it’s actually sending her entire body into a steady and solid decline?  Or does she eat so well that she has food available to her to the point she can be overweight.  Maybe she has no means to enjoy life any other way, but for some reason she’s able to purchase a lot of food, and that’s her indulgence – how she makes the most of life.  Does she not exercise?  Does she not want to? Does she not understand how important it is to keep moving and to remain in good health through movement and exercise?  Maybe she can’t.   Maybe she doesn’t care.  Maybe she has an injury she can’t pay to have addressed so she, literally, can’t move too much.  

Maybe I’m being judgmental.  
I think I’m just curious about her life experience, but maybe it comes off as judgmental.
Maybe this is just me, wondering too hard about a person who happens to live in a really not-so-great part of town, assuming she’s in a place she might well not be.  Maybe I’m being … the kind of person I never wanted to be.  Like how people, like me, honestly think they aren’t racist, but then someone else, who clearly thinks they know far more about racism than I do, points out some random opinion I might have and then tells me how racist that opinion is – and I never even knew it.  The “never even knew it” part would be their point of view, not mine.   I consider a major part of “racism”, or any kind of ‘ism’, to be ‘intent’ and I can’t ever remember a time I intended ’superiority’ in those kinds of ways.  My point being, maybe I’m “that” kind of person and I don’t even know it.   Maybe I’m one of these people who thinks they’re better than other people I deem to be less privileged than myself… just by sight alone.  Just by passing them on the side of the street as I drive by, and I lay a judgment call on them that doesn’t actually match, at all, their actual real life situation.  I never want to be that person, but maybe I am.



Maybe I am.



I don’t have any notion I’m any better than her, or anyone else, but … It was hard not to consider she was in a worse off position – and that’s the difference.

It’s hard not to have a thoughts when someone looks into your eyes and the exchange becomes this emotionally charged moment of curiosity and guilt.  I guess that’s what happened there for me.  I don’t ever know why I feel guilty about not being where certain people I see, are.  I didn’t put them there.  But maybe I indulge life and my personal freedoms in the kind of way that keeps them there?  My voting habits.  My political opinions.  My expectations of people to pull their weight… maybe she had no formal education after what was forced by the state. … … But that’s not my fault.  Her inability to get a job that pays well isn’t my fault.  The fact that I’m driving a fairly new higher end vehicle in the middle of a “workday” morning while she’s standing outside her apartment, scratching herself in public, with a disheveled appearance and a confused look on her face… that’s not my fault.  But I can never seem to help myself.  I “go there”.  I go all the way back…

I imagine this older lady as a young woman.  
What kind of life did she lead?  Did she “live it up”?  Maybe that’s why she’s living in this wretched part of town(?).  
Maybe I’m being judgmental again.

Maybe she had a family, but she partied on the weekends, did recreational drugs, drank, slept around, and otherwise conducted herself within the bounds of her version of “enjoying life”.  Maybe she didn’t listen to a single person who was making their way “the hard way” – but the way that pays off later in life with a good job, solid family, good health, and grand life experiences – when they told her she’s got her priorities all wrong.  Or, maybe she wasn’t blessed enough to have had anyone in her life who cared about her enough to tell her those kinds of things.

What kind of teenage years did she have?  Did she have a family who had expectations of her to finish high school and to get good grades while doing so?  If so, what happened?  If not, why not? Were her parents too busy working? Were they, then, like she is now?  Disheveled, low-income, and apparently confused?  Was it because they tried and couldn’t get ahead?  Was it because they didn’t try and never got ahead?  Did they not care to try?  Did they care but it never worked out? Did she learn that caring lead to nothing but let-downs, so why bother?  Did she have no sense of self esteem that allowed her to tell herself she was worth more than this?  

My memere worked incredibly hard.  Always.  She raised something like 11 kids, during and through the depression.  She lost her husband in the thick of the depression.  She worked mill jobs, and held her family together through the most absolute worst of times imaginable.  And she was a rock through every single day I shared my time on this Earth with her.  She was a fighter in every way I could imagine.  

This woman I passed this morning… she invoked a sadness in me that was palpable.  And to know that this life is so short, and the roads we choose are so … permanent once we pass a certain age… that point of no return cannot be undone.  Her road will never change, and she has so much ‘less time’ to make more mistakes, or to undo the ones she may now realize she made so long ago.

Or. Maybe I’m just being judgmental and none of these thoughts have ever occurred to her.  And because they never occurred to her she’s living the best life she can imagine for herself.  

Even though that’s her choice and she doesn’t know any better… about all the options that she could have had but never got the chance to exercise .. it still doesn’t lessen my own sadness about her situation.

All this from 1 passing moment of eye contact with a stranger on the street.

Maybe it says more about me than it does about her.

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