The other evening, we watched a movie that was pretty blah. There were many things wrong with it, but the most obvious thing was the emotional texture of the film. I always find the emotional texture of Ronald Bass films terribly false. It made me think of a woman we met a couple years ago.
Claire and I were on our usual 35-minute walk together. Toward the end of it, Claire said hi to a woman who was picking up the newspaper in her driveway. Claire is sometimes too friendly, and truth be told, so am I.
“Hello,” the woman said back.
It was a sixtysomething woman who was picking up her Sunday newspaper from the driveway. There was something in her face that was incredibly alive, and I wasn’t sure what.
“How are you?” Claire said.
That was the wrong thing to ask.
“I don’t know, not very good, I guess,” she said. “My husband just died.”
We stopped. Given her tone, it seemed disrespectful not to stop. The woman started talking, and I don’t know how, but we became planted there while she poured out the details about her husband. She blamed it on some horrible consumer product that had turned his brain into Swiss cheese, just ate away at it so that he was a walking zombie. What made that woman’s face seem so alive, I guess, was that she was staring directly into the face of Death.
“It just doesn’t seem real,” she said. “We’ve lived in this house for 40 years, and now, suddenly, he’s gone, and he didn’t have to be gone….”
We stood there listening to her rail against the pesticide companies, talk about her outrage, her pain, and her grief, all in a tone of voice that could not be ignored. Believe it or not, this conversation with a stranger stretched on for a half-hour or more. On the one hand, it seemed like a little miracle, like we had boiled everything down to the essentials: three souls connecting, listening, consoling. On the other hand, however, she was a stranger. Our time was precious. And we had a movie to go to. Finally, I spoke up.
“You know, Claire, that movie starts really soon,” I said.
“Oh, I’m sorry!” the woman said. “I don’t want to hold you back. Thank you so much for listening.”
Perhaps her relatives wouldn’t listen. Perhaps she was a bit crazy. Or perhaps her cup spilleth over so much that even her family couldn’t give her what she needed. At any rate, we went to the movie, which was also a Ronald Bass movie and wasn’t very good. They say that he doesn’t write the scripts himself, but hires a committee of young writers, and then brings all their ideas together and chooses from the “best” of them. But it was Hollywood emotions, not real emotions, and that day, we had seen the real thing.
And that night, when I laid my head down to sleep, all I could think of was that woman’s face, and how alive it had been. And I haven’t forgotten it in the several years since.