Every wise woman builds her house, but the foolish one tears it down with her own hands
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Something I witnessed long ago, and which has come back to me over and over.
Dave officiated at a memorial yesterday for a woman from our church. Patsy was 71, a hard-worker, the possessor of a great sense of humor, and a clutch-you-tight, squeeze-your-bones hugger. I miss her. Sundays will be odd without her.
Later, we headed to Costco to pick up a few things. Zac was staying at a friend’s so it was just the three of us in the truck. Tera sat in the middle, loving her between-Dad-and-Mom spot. On the way she expressed hunger. We briefly considered dining on Costco samples, but those are pretty hit-or-miss, so we decided instead to stop first at the Mongolian grill.
Dave and I assembled nearly identical combinations: beef, carrots, noodles, broccoli, hot peppers, lots of chili oil, chili flakes and garlic. Tera played it safe: chicken, noodles, carrots. We brought our heaping plates back to the table and went to work. But with only a few bites behind us, the conversation from the next-over table became noticeable. Actually, it was the woman’s end of the conversation that rose in volume. I never could hear the man very well. But I tried.
The couple looked to be in their late sixties or early seventies. I never learned her name. She barely gave him a chance to speak it. But I know his. I heard it plenty: “Bert, you’re passive . . . Bert, you’re disrespectful . . . Bert, you’re lazy.” I kind of thought Bert was crazy. Nothing else could account for the way he sat there quietly, eating polite spoonfuls of hot and sour soup and listening to his wife’s tirade. Now and again he’d try to answer an accusation, but for the most part he just listened. It became clear he didn’t have much choice, although I did notice midway through the ordeal that he wore a hearing aid. I’d have set that thing to zero.
One plateful of Mongolian grill is plenty for me, so while Tera went back for seconds, and Dave went back for seconds and thirds, I scooted surreptitiously across the booth seat until I was as close to the edge as I dared and tucked my hair behind my right ear so as to completely un-impede my hearing. And yes — I scribbled first on a napkin and then on the notebook I pulled out of my purse. Did you not read my writer’s resolutions? Eavesdropping is a writer’s duty.
As near as I can figure, the woman’s big complaint was that Bert doesn’t appreciate traveling as much as she does. Really, to hear the hostility in her voice, you’d have thought that Bert had committed a murder and pinned it on her. But Bert’s lone crime, as I heard it, is that he’s frugal. Being a retired man, he’s a bit worried about bills and income and that sort of thing. Wife’s position was that, “The whole world has bills — and they travel!”
They’ve been married for 24 years — a second marriage for both. She survived cancer during that time, a fact she brought up by yelling, “I did not fight cancer to live the way I’m living!” Twice, that sixty-something woman used profanity that no grandmother should know, let alone speak. After the second occurrence, Tera leaned over the table and said, “Mom, can I go over there and tell her about Jesus?” Oh, how I wanted to let her. I looked at Dave and could see he was close to blessing that request as well, but then we heard a big commotion next door.
“My rainy day has come. I’m tired of waiting. Now I’ve found someone who WANTS to travel with me. Yes, Bert, you heard me correctly. He WANTS to. He’s figured it out. He knows he won’t live forever and he he wants to make the most of his last days. You should have heard his voice on the phone last night. He’s genuinely excited about the possibility of this trip. Now, I don’t know if he’s excited because he’s going to be with me or just excited to travel, but oh, how delightful it was to hear that eagerness. I’d love to hear some of that same excitement and exuberance in my own home!”
Bert finally spoke up with a bit of heat. “Well, if he wants to travel, he can just travel by himself.”
Wife had a comeback. “You just don’t get it, do you, Bert? You have no passion. NONE! You certainly have none for me. No passion, no enthusiasm, no energy for anything but sitting on the couch day in and day out watching TV. What’s that country western song you like so much? Live Like You Were Dying?”
“Tim McGraw,” Bert offered.
“How come you can’t do that? How come you can’t go to a coffee shop and have a cup of coffee and socialize, or go have a cocktail and meet people? You know why you can’t, Bert? Because you’re ignorant. You’re ignorant and stupid and passive and disrespectful.”
Bert made a last comment, something I so wish I’d heard.
Wife heard him, though. She sucked in her breath indignantly. “Oh, I am, am I? Well. Thank you for THAT.” And off she stomped.
Bert finished his coffee and took his time gathering his things, and then he, too, was gone.
Tera’s eyes were huge. I leaned over and said the first thing that popped into my head, “Honey, that’s exactly the kind of woman you do not want to grow up to be.”
The waitress brought us a tray of fortune cookies. Mine read, Someone from afar is watching you. Dave said, “I think they put that one on the wrong table.”
All the way to Costco, Tera bemoaned the fact that she hadn’t witnessed to the couple. All the way to Costco, I thought about the beautiful woman we’d buried that morning, and the legacy of love and patience and Jesus she’d left to her friends and family. And I thought how much easier it is to be another kind of woman, how very easy it is to let your rage color your face and coat your words and turn your loved ones to ice.
Lord, help me remember.