Word Medicine

Writing and Healing: exploring the art of healing and the healing of art

Appearance and Reality February 28, 2012

Filed under: Stories — saratbaker @ 5:20 pm
Tags: , , , ,

A story is just what happens.  One thing after the other.

The day before Valentines Day, my friend Susie’s mom, Cessie, collapsed.  Susie’s voice on the phone, tremulous, “Do you have any time to come over?”  I went to find Cessie on the kitchen floor propped up against the fridge. The cold gray light of February fell over her. She gave me a wan smile, her brown eyes rueful.  Her color was pretty good.  I sat on the kitchen floor with her, eating oranges.  Then we managed to her her scooted on a towel to the living room, where she struggled mightily and finally was able to sit on the couch.  Susie was in turns, loving, playful, angry.  Who can blame her?  Cessie was brave and dignified, despite it all.  Despite being seen in all her vulnerability.

Then I went to physical therapy, where, as I waited, I saw a girl with heavy makeup scrolling through her iPhone, slumped in a chair, looking bored.  I gave her a sidelong glance–the usual clientel here is over 50.  I wondered at her make-up, so masklike-and tedious to apply, and heavy eyeliner seemed to be making a comeback. Why, I thought?  I’d never been able to master the stuff.  I realized I’d left home  without a swipe of powder or lipstick….oh well. I was called in for my treatment, and when it was over, I walked through a room where I saw the girl again, on her knees, fastening a young man’s prosthetic lower leg.  She finished, and lovingly smoothed his khakis and rose.  The two of them turned their beautiful smooth young faces to the exit.  He walked just fine, no one would have suspected his foot was missing.  They looked whole, young, insouciant.

Then I went to get Valentine cards.  I can’t stand for very long–something called orthostatic intolerance–and yet I did, growing fainter and fainter.  I finally scored a great card for my son, and an acceptable one for myhusband.  But while I was doing this, a young white woman wearing a red Kroger apron, read cards to a young black man with braided hair, chains, and carefully slouchy rapper clothes.  She questioned him gently on the kinds of sentiments he’d like.  He glanced around nervously, gestured with his hand, mumbled something I couldn’t hear.  She plucked a few more cards, “Okay, let’s try this,” she said, reading aloud the corny sentiments.    Then a large black man in a wheelchair rolled by, dressed all in red, including a red baseball cap and stopped to look for cards.  An older white woman, the pleasant kind of older woman no one notices, stood looking for cards.  She excused herself to walk around the black man, and began to talk with him about her husband, who was also in a wheelchair.  The two of them bantered, with loud peals of laughter coming from the man, the older woman  holding her middle and saying, “that’s so true, darling, you know.”   Finally she sayed, “Well, God bless you,” as he turned to leave, leaving him giggling.

And so it goes.  I thought about the assumptions we make about other people, and how they are almost always wrong.  I thought of Cessie’s dignity and Susie’s fortitude, and of how easily I had dismissed the fiercely casual young woman.  I though about the signals our presentation sends, whether heavy make-up or none, a gangsta outfit, or a bright red baseball cap, of how we put our armor on to step out into a hostile world, only to find, at least in the card aisle at Kroger  the day before Valentines–it isn’t that hostile at all.


7 Responses to “Appearance and Reality”

  1. Harriet Kohen Says:

    Thank you for giving me a smile this morning with your reminders about making misleading assumptions.


  2. This is beautiful, thank you Sara.


  3. lindalouise0626 Says:

    I love you, Sara Baker.


  4. Roxanne Ivey Says:

    You are such a lovely writer, Sara. Your words are exactly what your blog name proclaims: medicine. Thank you.


  5. Nancy Gross Says:

    Sara…nice story to begin my day at 6:41. In fact I may use it with my residents. Looking forward to seeing your again soon in Iowa


  6. Joan Says:

    I read and smiled…and remembered a day I waited to be served at our grocery store deli counter. Before me was a young African/American man replete in gang-banger dress, tattoos, piercings, low jeans, bandana. I waited and wondered and assumed much. His phone rang and he answered then listened a minute before replying…”Nope, I didn’t forget the formula and I have the diapers already….picking up lunch for us. Kiss the baby for me”. He turned to me and gave me a big grin and said “She’s got no confidence in me, but I got it straight!” and he wandered off, but not before I gave him a big grin back and admonished myself for all my judgments. Amen. I love my urban life as it is constantly upending me and that is a good thing.


  7. Hi Sarah,
    Fun posting. Yes, I know what you mean about not letting appearances distract us. Last summer, I was spending time at home in Ypsilanti, Michigan because my parents were in the midst of another medical crisis. At one point, I took the bus somewhere and spent time chatting to a young African-American man who, if you went by appearances, you might not choose to talk to. I didn’t think much of it, as I often talk to people and I am not particular about how they look. About a week later, however, I encountered the young man again. I didn’t remember him, to be honest, but he remembered me because I had treated him with respect, not fear, and taken the time to talk to him about his life and the day and my life. He remembered me and took the time to talk to me again and then I remembered him and smiled for a long time about how not letting barriers stand between us can produce beautiful opportunities for communication.

    Thanks again for an inspiring post.


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