Oniontown Pastoral: When Kathy Walks Away
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come.
(William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116)
Out of an abundance of caution, that was the reason, I suppose. The Colemans of old had a rule about dropping friends and family off at destinations. Night or day, always “wait until they get in the door” before driving away.
I got my driver’s license on October 9, 1977, my 16th birthday, and doubt in the intervening years that any passengers have been left vulnerable to the injury, robbery or ruin possible between my car and their safe harbor.
The inhabitants of a gray house on Wagner Avenue in Erie, Pennsylvania, embraced caution. We gave the Bogeyman no occasion for mischief, to the point that sister Cindy even flashed a porch light, if possible, to be doubly sure I knew she had come to no harm in transit. Our anxiety seems to my three-score self out of proportion to any danger, but every family has its quirks. The Colemans were worrywarts. Such remains my wiring.
My formal job titles have been college English teacher (10 years), Lutheran pastor (20 years) and writer (36 years). Including “chauffeur” as an avocation wouldn’t be wrong. “Heavens to Betsy,” as Mom used to lead off her observations, “I’ve worn out many sets of tires getting loved ones from A to B.”
In recent years friend Ray, now of blessed memory, had me running him all over “hell’s half acre”—one of Dad’s favorites—for cigars, peppermints, bargain boloney and adult “diapers,” as he unapologetically called them. To and from we shared salty laughs I still miss.
Waiting for Ray to close his backdoor behind him was no idle measure. His legs sagged under the weight of psychotropic medication, and I was worried that the backsteps would one day get the better of him. In the end he did fall, but it was in the bathroom. Couldn’t be helped.
I was quietly proud of those slim five seconds spent for my friend’s sake. Now, I’m finding every weekday morning when I drop wife Kathy off at work that worry can actually do some good. As she gets out of the car, descends a flight of steps and enters a glass door, the Coleman Rule is in full force—again, with good reason. My beloved constantly negotiates with rheumatoid arthritis. She possesses strength and stability far beyond Ray’s, but we are both at an age when one misstep can make a mess of the golden years. Heck, in my late 40s I slipped on an icy stoop and broke a rib. The damage could have been far worse.
So I keep vigil as my wife climbs out of the passenger seat, often with a groan, slings a paisley backpack over her shoulder and takes coffee from my hand. We say, “Love you,” she closes the door, and off she goes.
Then “wait until they get in the door” turns to watching somebody I love walk away, which is a different matter altogether. The former involves obligation. The latter awakens the soul. It does mine, anyway.
First day of school a child boards the bus, which drives off, her small, dear face looking out the window. A brother passes through the gate and walks into that square accordion tunnel, out of sight and onto the plane. Mom, Dad, husband or wife gets wheeled into surgery after a kiss. “I’ll be waiting for you.”
Watching my wife head into work is commonplace, but no less soulful for that. A few seconds is enough for an epiphany, which I received last week.
Kathy is all gray now, and the hair I have left isn’t far behind. Neither of us can help shaking our heads when we look in a full-length mirror. There’s no shame in admitting these truths, Time insisting on having its say over our bodies.
“Love is not love,” Shakespeare also writes, “which alters when it alteration finds.” Love does grow, though, in ways that make no sense.
Kathy’s stride is pained. Each step aches. Bearing children and taking medication and getting old add pounds and reverse the curves of youth. Let’s speak the truth.
But there are other truths. When my beloved walks away, my soul is calm and grateful. Last week I thought, “She is my home. In her I have all I want and need.”
It’s odd. An old family rule, built on worry, now occasions an epiphany: I’m under no obligation to convince anybody that Kathy is beautiful. She is, and that’s plenty to sustain whatever years I have left.