She tells me that when she walks out of the shower and stares at her face in the mirror, she’s in disbelief. She says that somewhere, some time, 86 crept into her and took her history.
“It’s gone,” she blurted out.
I asked her to explain.
We sat together on a velvety French lounge in her living room surrounded by old smiles in splintered wooden frames.
“You are a young man,” she said, “and can’t imagine what lies ahead of you.”
“If you’re lucky, the angel of death will tap your shoulder while those whom you love are still alive. If you’re not lucky, you’ll live as if it was forever.”
The phone didn’t ring while we talked. Nobody knocked at the woman’s old door. The TV channel she was watching was the one with the building security cameras. Who would enter? Who would leave? It was as if she was a protagonist in a chassidic tale – lonely, alone and deserted, except without the shack on the outskirts of the forest and a need for firewood.
We continued to talk. “I always believed you can judge a person by the number of toilet rolls in their cart,” she giggled. “I can spot colitis from aisle 1.”
“I live on my pension and am lucky if I can buy a challah for Shabbos at the end of the month. So sometimes I’ll make Hamotzi on melba toast. Is that OK?”
I asked the elegant lady if anybody comes around, who the children are in the pictures, if she’d like the Internet.
She told me, most genuinely, that her children moved away many years before and her friends are dead. Sometimes her children and grandchildren call, but they offer up little of their lives, as if sitting mile-high in a treehouse.
“I seemed to have worn off after time,” she said. “Nobody comes around,” she added, “except for a Jewish child down the hall.” The wise woman turned to me. “There seems to be nothing classic about my time. Or is it me?”
I asked her again if she’d like the Internet, a computer.
“What is it?” she asked.
I told her I could get her a computer and someone to teach her how to talk to people all over the world. “Maybe you could e-mail a man in Peru.” She blushed but smiled cutely. “Me? This?”
“Sure I’d love that,” she exclaimed. “But I need visitors too. I told you, you don’t know what lies ahead of you. The worst of it is loneliness, so wide and shrill you can feel it and hear it. Death is likely friendlier, my dear.”
“Give me a face. A heartbeat to equal mine. Let me feel a hand on mine. That is what I want. Please.”
I gave her a kiss and promised I’d write about her and ask everyone to adopt a senior. She thanked me and handed me a present wrapped in a paper bag. “Sometimes I open the window just a crack, so I can hear the wind weep,” she whispered.
I got home and unravelled the paper – it was the Sunday New York Times – and ribbons. In it was a picture. She was young, in a Renoiresque world where unattractiveness had no invitation, when history included her and she thought she knew what lay ahead.
Call the Jewish Information Service at 416-635-5600 to find out how you can make an elderly person part of your life. Happy Purim.