Monday, November 2, 2015

Learning to Let Go

Two weeks ago I participated in the Walk to End Alzheimer's. It was not what I anticipated. I had planned to walk with a friend. Two days prior, I picked up the phone to firm up our plans; her text message awaited: she had to cancel. I was disappointed. Saturday morning was beautiful; a perfect day for a walk. I made it to the site in plenty of time to visit vendors and get a sense of what this was all about; but the tables were staffed by home health care companies and assisted living facilities (not applicable), and walking my neighborhood alone is a far cry from walking alone in a group of hundreds of people. "I could just go home and walk the dogs. The money's been raised; there's no need for me to be here." I was bored and disappointed. It was the knowledge that I'd not posted here in weeks that kept my feet planted firmly in that lot and set my mouth to moving. Maybe I could find an adventure, but to do that, I had to let go.
It was then I noticed a couple holding an orange flower. An orange flower, according to Alzheimer's Association "rules", designates someone who has no personal connection to Alzheimer's, but is simply lending their support to the eradication of this menace. This young, upwardly mobile couple seemed to have stepped out of an ad for Prius or Morgan Stanley. Our brief chat was pleasant, but indeed, brief. I thanked them for their support.
I had my "team" picture taken. Don't judge; I was trying to make something happen here.

Then I saw someone who, like me, was alone. She had with her a purple flower. A purple flower is Alzheimer's Association code for a walker who has lost someone to Alzheimer's. My internal debate went something like this:

"You can't just walk up to her and ask her. No one is going to tell you about someone they lost to Alzheimer's. You are a total stranger."

"But that's what these people are here for."

"So what if she just lost the person recently, and she has a meltdown?"

"She looks pretty well-adjusted. Besides, most people love to tell their stories."

I finally convinced myself she was about to walk away any second, and I would miss an important opportunity, so I spoke. "I noticed your purple flower. You've lost someone to Alzheimer's?" And there it began. Our lives had included many of the same chapters, though the circumstances were very different; it was the fusion of divergent and parallel that caused the conversation to flow so freely. It ended two and a half miles, several minutes on the pier, a walk to the parking lot, several more minutes there, a ride to her car, the exchange of numbers, and a promise of lunch someday, later.

Such a simple thing, to approach a fellow human being and ask them about them. And yet, I almost allowed apprehension, disappointment, and expectations to block the path to friendship.

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