Wednesday, November 08, 2006


We have all done it before we actually meet someone in person, most especially if we have heard stories about them. We make a judgement on what they will be like, who they are, before we even meet them.

Today I met a woman.....I heard portions of her life story before I met her....she is 62 years old, been married and divorced 3 times, the first two time to batterers, she was a heavy smoker, even heavier drinker. Slowly dying now of emphysema and COPD, living in a small apartment, on the bare minimum social security pays. On that basis alone I had an impression of who she was before I ever met her.

I imagined this small pasty pudgy woman, with one of those deep harsh smokers voices. I knew she would be dragging her long oxygen tube wherever she went, possibly a walker and/or a motorized wheelchair in the house. I really thought she would still be smoking, most COPD suffers I have met don't seem to be able to quit until they are at stage 4 and really cannot get enough oxygen. I imagined someone rough around the edges....loud, poor grammar, uneducated, maybe a little tacky snobbery showing through...a snobbery that I knew was there, that we all secretly hide, but I had thought I had set to the side. Until I met her and realized what I had done.

It took me a while to find her apartment, it was hidden off a back alley, so, yes the apartment was not in the best part of town, not even the middle-class part of town...but what else can she afford on 600.00 a month? I rang the bell, and the door was answered by a small boy, very neatly dressed just finished with his half-day of kindergarten, he invited me in, told me Mawma would be out soon. He was watching the Robots dvd, I stood near the door, waiting for her to appear. The apartment was not spotlessly clean, but no clutter to speak of, and an abundance of lighthouse curios on display everywhere.....a lot of christian plagues hanging on the walls. And not even a whiff of cigarette smoke.

When she finally walked into the room, she ws so tiny, maybe 5 feet if that, and if she weighs over a hundred pounds I would be very surprised. And for someone who has smoked since she was seven years old...yes you read that right! Seven years old! Her complexion was lovely, wrinkled yes, but not really all that much for a woman of her age and illnesses. Very soft spoken, a slight southern accent, gentle kind brown eyes. Short auburn hair, a bit disheveled, but she is sick after all, she was dressed in an old soft sweatshirt that went well with her coloring, and a pair of freshly pressed blue jeans....the legs had creases!

She introduced me to her great-grandson....I could see the love and pride in her eyes, and his. So very well behaved, I could see that he idolized her. The love and affection between them was palpable. Even when he accidently turned the volume up louder on the TV she very kindly and most importantly, politely requested he turn it back down. He did.

I have met so many people that fit the stereotype of the unhealthy, fallen-through-cracks-poor, that I jumped to conclusions about her, about her lifestyle. I was so very wrong.

She freely admits to leading a very wild youth, even a wild middle-age, from the stories she told me today, very rough and very wild......but you wouldn't guess it by looking at her, or hearing her.....oh there was one small sign...she had a very blurry blue butterfly tattoo on the portion of her hand between thumb and index finger....I really wanted to hear the story behind that, but I didn't ask.

She taught me a lesson that is so very important, maybe most important in my line of work, that I sometimes forget....we are all individuals with a story, sometimes a very sad story...but just because someone leads a hard life...does not mean they are a hard person.


LePhare said...

As soon as you saw the lighthouse curios you should have guessed what sort of person she was. And you're right, we've all made assumptions before we've know the whole story.

Fiona said...

We all do it....we all project our preconceptions. Instead of taking things as they are, understanding them as they are....and just accepting them as they are.

Sometimes we even do it to ourselves.

I've found over the years, that just opening my heart a little here, a little there, and empathising more than I used to...that I'm so much more accepting of what 'just is'.

I think, Sunny, that you do the most amazing work, I really do.

Sunny Delight said...

Ian--I did think of you when I saw them all...I really did...and she is a wondeful woman.

Fi--as long as I keep remembering that we are all unique and special...and that giving them empathy is a gift....they don't want my sympathy...just my understanding and help.

LePhare said...

I was just thinking, $600 a month. That's about £325 a month. She would probably be entitled to double that in the free rent, health care, and the opportunity to be able to claim other benefits.

We live off benefits, and live very well. I wish it were different (not the 'living well' bit) but that's the way it is. Guess we are lucky to be on this side of 'The Pond'.

Sunny Delight said...

Ian, she does get reduced rent, and her healthcare is covered by our medicaid, which helps a lot, but is still not enough at times, she also gets foodstamps which covers only certain the area of health care, and other necessities of life the US has a long long way to go... so yes you are very lucky to be on that side of the "pond".