-as published in Living Out East and On the Bay http://www.livingouteast.com
Sara Caldwell came to call at our house this morning. She lives here in Palm Heights (elevation 14 feet); around the corner from us in the house with the pink plastic flamingos in front arranged artfully among the Bismarck Palms and the seasonal get-out-the-vote signs. Usually she comes to see Brown Eyes and they sit companionably in the family room sipping coffee and swapping observations about national, state, and local politics. Today, however, was different. The formidable Sara announced she had come to see me.
“You’re an author and sort of smart," she began, “so I thought I’d come and ask you.” Since Sara doesn’t take prisoners gladly, never appears in public without full makeup and jewelry (not even to put out the garbage can), and has been known to ask really embarrassing questions at Community Meetings, I wasn’t sure whether to feel vaguely complimented or to run for the hills. Not wanting Brown Eyes to accuse me of complete cowardice later, I stayed.
“It has recently come to my attention," Sara continued, “that I’m having trouble staying as independent as I have always been. I’ve always prided myself on total independence. Used to drive my late husband crazy, but I suppose you know that.
To be precise, my pool man discovered me this morning with my favorite ratchet set trying to fix the darned garage door again and failing to do so. What’s worse is he fixed it in a heartbeat and then recommended I get Joe Fingers to make a permanent fix for me. Made me so mad I wanted to throw something.”
“Why don’t you come in for some coffee, Sara, and George can talk about it," Brown Eyes offered while smoothly ignoring my wide eyes and frantic NO, NO! gestures.
So we settled in our living room, Sara with her coffee and me with my tea with lots of milk. Brown Eyes discretely disappeared.
Surrendering to the moment I said “OK Sara, what’s the question about independence you are most afraid of asking? The quality of the answer depends upon the quality of the question throughout life and many of us avoid the best questions.”
She blinked. “Your wife said you could be tricky but OK I’ll go with it. What I really want to ask is this: does beginning to lose my independence mean the beginning of the end for my quality of life? I don’t want to be a dependent old woman. Scares the heck out of me. Worse than that it feels like an icy hill. One day I’m standing at the top happily independent and the next thing you know WHAM! I’m at the bottom of the hill on my bottom in a pool of total dependence sitting on my rear end."
Sara sipped her coffee and glared at me. “Now I suppose you’re going to ask me why it has to be one or the other. Why does it have to be independence or dependence? Why can’t I consider interdependence as an option? I’ve got two really good reasons. One: I’ve always been an independent woman. I like it that way. Two: Interdependence would require acknowledging I can’t be fully independent.
"I’d end up negotiating with my friends and neighbors and children all the kinds of interdependence that could be really helpful but would alter my reputation, my sense of myself, and my relationships with all of them forever. They could rely on me for some things. I could rely on them for others. Not sure I like that option very much. I like things black and white, see. None of this gray stuff for me. Used to drive my late husband crazy or did I already say that? Still, it would probably be the smart thing to do now before I’m in a position of being sorry I didn’t do it earlier. I could even break down and talk to Joe Fingers about a permanent fix for my blasted garage door.”
Brown Eyes arrived to bring us beverage refills and disappeared again. Then Sara resumed, “I’m less and less happy that I came around the corner to talk to you. Have you noticed you haven’t said a word for 15 minutes? Your wife is absolutely right. You’re tricky and you bear watching.”
“OK," I said, “here it is. You can see it as a compromise or as a loss or as being horrible or however you want to see it, but the smartest among us will choose interdependence early and get good at it. This is because at some point total independence will be and always has been a myth.
"When you had kids at home were you really totally independent? When your husband was still alive were you totally independent? I don’t think it’s new to you. I just think you’re coming to that point in life when interdependence is a fabulous skill and approach that supports quality of life. You don’t have to go straight from total independence to total dependence. Interdependence can be a pretty good thing. Think about it.”
“Time for me to go home”, Sara said heaving her considerable grandeur up off our couch. “I’ve had enough of this. But I promise to think about it. See you at the Community Meeting tonight.”
Alone in the living room I thought to myself, “I’m happy you’ll think about it Sara. We all should. As for the Community Meeting you can look for me. I’ll be the guy hiding behind Brown Eyes again.”
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Talk to you soon, George