Tactical error. I was already halfway across the street, essentially committed to crossing, when I saw the little old lady. Blast. Another person had already claimed that sidewalk. And what’s more, because she was trundling along so slowly while pulling a little red suitcase down the hill, I would overtake her in mere minutes, thereby putting me in close contact with another human being, a relationship I didn’t feel like taking on right then. For a literal, middle-of-the-road moment I considered reversing my direction and heading back to my nice, private side of the street to enjoy my early morning walk, but I was working on being more open to whatever life put in my path so I gritted my teeth and stayed the course.
Once on the other side, however, I couldn’t help but admire her whimsical attire. Below the hemline of her purple coat was a frock of splashy flowers. Up top she wore a jaunty red tam — a bright cherry popped atop a flowing cloud of white hair. She reminded me of my mother with her wild love of color and pattern, my mother with her sparkly white bob, my mother who seemed to grow into her beauty the older she got. Or perhaps it was the reverse; the older I got the more I was able to see it.
This was all shaping up into such a pretty picture but the closer I came the more the woman appeared to be perversely diminishing in a kind of reverse perspective as certain deviations became apparent…a coat too large in the shoulder and too long in the arm. The droop of a dress falling at a skewed angle out from under the bottom of the coat. The artless black Velcro shoes, perfect for lengthy trudging but in contradiction to who she seemed from a distance.
Uh oh. Could she be? Awfully snappy style for a homeless person, but maybe. And yet that little red wagon of a suitcase….it looked new. In good shape, anyway.
Now just steps away, something else caught my eye. Sticking up a good 6 inches out of the top of the suitcase was a painting, maybe a landscape. Curious. Where was she heading so early in the morning with her red suitcase packed with art? And where did she get it?
I had an overwhelming urge to see her face. No matter her situation, I decided she would be merry, beautiful in a twinkly-eyed way and wise, a good touch to this now complicated story. Coming up alongside, I turned my head to say hello and was instantly dismayed by her puffy gray cheeks, her slack jaw, her unfocused eyes. She was unmoored. A dislocated person. As I passed on by, I heard her mumbling, …one of those days.
One of those days. What did that mean for her? Another day of coming a little bit more undone? Or maybe another day of collecting art? Maybe she trudges around all day long searching for it, recovering it from dumpsters or from the stuff people pile at the side of the road on garbage day. Maybe she picks art up as fast as her faculties drop.
Or maybe she made this art. Maybe this is the last piece of her that still makes sense so she wheels it around by her side, keeping it close. Maybe art is what she is when all else falls away. Maybe on some original level she knows that art — beauty — will carry her on that slow trek into the other world she is heading for. This walk, her long goodbye.