I’m taking my midday walk when I see her.
Her hair is starting to grow in, a white, spiky halo. I click on my phone to pause the podcast that I’ve been listening to. “How’s it going today?” I ask.
“Getting better all the time,” she says with a smile.
I’ve seen her walking in our neighborhood often, and couldn’t help but notice that in the last few months, her hair and eyebrows vanished. Cancer—the word always pulsed through me as I passed her. You don’t know that, I’d think. But I’d wondered. Sometimes, I’d send out a little prayer—take care of her, I’d whisper after we passed each other, to whatever might be listening.
“Yeah?” I asked.
“Yeah. I’ve been going through uterine cancer,” she says. I nod my head.
“I’m so sorry,” I say.
“Thank you. I’m in remission.”
“I’m really glad to hear that,” I say. Before today, we’ve never said more than a quiet “hi” to each other before, but suddenly, she’s spilling her story. I stand on the street and listen as she tells me about how she was diagnosed. She tells me, too, about her husband, her former stressful career, her treatment regiment, and an inheritance. She asks about my children, and if we live nearby. We exchange names, and after several minutes of holding her words, we each go our separate ways.
She’s a talker, I think, as I start walking again. But I smile. The truth is, I love moments like this. When we open up to each other as humans. When we answer the holy questions of What is hard in your life right now? What are you surviving?
So often, we have no idea what our neighbors—literally and figuratively—struggle with.
I’m weary of small talk. Of armoring up against each other, of trying to appear to “be strong.” Of the compulsory exchange of greetings, of How are you’s and I’m fine’s. Of scrolling through the highlight reels of each other’s lives, seeing only the sheen and sure.
I don’t have time for glossy.
I want to skip right to the raw and real.
I want to know what furry fears keep you up in the slick of night.
I want to know who you are missing, who you have lost.
I want to feel the vibration of the essence of you. I want to see the colors that hum beneath your skin. I want to hear about your ache.
I believe this is why we are here. Not to compare and compete, though those are human tendencies and can be hard to shake off. But to witness each other’s hard-won wisdom, and gleaming gifts. The voluptuous visions, and the dark deaths.
For the rest of the day, and still now, I carried this neighbor’s story with me. Beneath tall waving trees, we shared something warm and soft, and I could see the invisible web—that knits us all to one another—glitter.
Thank you, I say in a quiet voice. Thank you.
Author: Lynn Shattuck
Image: Ben White/Unsplash
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Nicole Cameron