by Constance Garcia-Barrio
It’s always snowing in a corner of my heart, no matter the season. At nearly three score and 10, I find that grief new and old turn me inward to a kinship with skeletal trees and cold ground. Disappointments and encroaching arthritis come freighted with frost. My husband died many years ago, but our failed marriage still seems like a winter unto itself.
Yet, I want to welcome spring, with its warmth and rioting colors, for to turn my back on it would be to deny that I still have possibilities, though fewer now, that I can still grow and, God willing, do a measure of good.
I begin to bestir myself by attending children’s story hours at Lovett Library and the Big Blue Marble Bookstore. As I watch the toddlers cavorting and see their eagerness, I take in the energy of seedlings. The stories about Easter, Purim or mischievous monkeys who steal hats come as a bonus.
I butt into other people’s business. One day, I saw a man who had set up his easel on Germantown Avenue. His canvas had mostly muted tones so I said, “You ought to put me in your picture; get a little color in there.” I pointed first to my brown skin and then to my neon-pink t-shirt. He smiled, a fortunate reaction, all things considered.
Bus-stop stories, quick glimpses into other lives, often give me an enlivening elixir. One day, a young single mother poured out her thankfulness about a new combination of medications that kept her bipolar illness in check. Now her relationships were going better, and her eight-year-old daughter seemed happier too, she said. Her gratitude reached into me and, for a time, peeled away years.
Sometimes I go over the top. I was waiting for a friend in a lobby of a downtown theatre when I spied a tall, handsome, nut-brown gent who looked about my age. Talk about a sudden warm weather! I had just nerved myself up to ask him, “Are you flirtable?” when my friend arrived. She probably saved me from disaster.
My mini-adventures on the street revive the greenness in me, but unless I’m granted the mercy of a sudden death, the day will likely come when I’ll be housebound. What then?
Even then, I may have a certain blossoming. “The difficulties of old age give us the area — I could say ‘arena’ — in which we can take up the … challenge of finding out who we are,” Mary Morisson wrote in “Without nightfall upon the spirit,” a pamphlet published by Pendle Hill, a nearby Quaker study center. “Dealing with the difficulties of old age, we can grow in self-knowledge; we can even become wise.”
To strengthen my faith in newness and growth, I’ll try to bear in mind the words of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810), whose influence continues in the Hasidic Movement and other Jewish communities. “The Architect of the world never does the same thing twice,” Nachman wrote. “Every day is a new creation. Take as much as you can from what each new day has to offer.” Provided pain doesn’t overwhelm me, I will celebrate within myself the gathering of all seasons: childhood, adolescence, middle age, harvest time, elderhood. I’ll ladle out advice if anyone seeks it, a grandmotherly broth of words that was a lifetime in the making.
A friend of mine said that she would write letters to her congressmen as long as she could be propped up in bed and tap a keyboard. I’ll take my cue from her. To keep the springtime alive in me, I may pick up the phone, dial numbers at random and give good wishes to whoever answers.
Constance Garcia-Barrio is a Mt. Airy resident, a regular contributor to the Local and a retired professor of Spanish from West Chester University.