Between Seeing and Observing

Think Local

By Chris Hoffman

(Sherburne, NY – Feb. 2013Hoffman) They are 90 years old.  She lies in a hospital bed, exhausted and frail, the result of a frantic 911 call the evening before.  Her husband sits awkwardly and uncomfortably in an industrial chair at the end of her bed, his cane leaning against the bed frame.  He has been waiting there, impatiently, for over an hour since she was taken to rooms unknown for some kind of scan.  His chronic pain, from a litany of maladies, is etched in his face.  His decorum is stoic.

There is a dearth of conversation, of actual audible words.  Their communication happens in direct, unembellished statements.

“You want to go home.  You should go.  There’s nothing you can do here.”

“I do.  I’ve got to lie down.”

“Go then, it’s alright.”

I hear the words, and I see them talking.  But what I observe unleashes a flood of understanding, a flash of insight, an instantaneous clarity that enables me to grasp the enormity of all that exists and has passed between these two, a lifetime of shared moments, built one upon the other over decades of time.

I look at her face, her eyes especially.  She is worried and in pain, not from her own physical betrayals, which are certainly sufficient cause for either, but for not being able to be there for him.  He’ll be alone tonight in the house.  What will he have for dinner?  What if he falls?

She also blames herself.  She is causing him to worry.  She is not being strong, as she has always been for him, but her frailty is long ago beyond her control, a fait accompli, to which she has not yet fully adjusted in her mind.

He stares at the floor.  Minutes pass.  He lifts his head and their eyes meet.  They hold each other’s gaze.  Tears start to form in her eyes.

I feel out of place, an intruder.  I want to evaporate into thin air, but any movement on my part would only bring attention to the fact that I am there at all.  I know that, in that moment, nothing exists for them outside of their connection.

I am envious and moved and joyful and sad, all at once.  The intensity of this moment is almost overwhelming; the depth of emotion is palpable.

“I should go,” he says.  And he looks down to the floor again.

I know what he’s thinking, even as he refuses to fully form the thought.  What would I do without her?

She knows what he’s thinking, too, and the thought takes hold in her mind as well.  And she once again feels guilt and pain and the monumental void of a lifetime nearing its end, if not exactly right now, nevertheless sometime in an increasingly imaginable future.

I am but 24 years younger, now entering the last third of my life.  I have no husband.  Friends notwithstanding, I am essentially alone.  Right now, I literally cannot imagine not being self-sufficient and fully capable, what it must be like to not be able to run up and down stairs, to stand on a ladder and hoist summer deck chairs onto hooks in the garage rafters, to reach for a little-used serving dish in the upper cabinet, to lug 50-pound bags of birdseed from the trunk of the car to the garage, to work for eight hours straight in the yard and gardens and barely break a sweat.

I cannot conceive of not being able to find the right word, or hear song lyrics, or follow a movie plot.

I cannot fathom what it must be like to not be able to pick up and go, whenever and wherever, simply because you feel like it.

I cannot envision myself lying in a hospital bed.

And yet, all that will come to pass, or so I am told.

I am often impatient and silently critical and judgmental when I encounter such incapability in others.

But when I saw, and observed, this precious moment in time between two people in the midst of crisis, I had to confront my innate tendency to impatience and arrogance.  And chastise myself for my own hubris.

To see, you need only open your eyes.  To observe, you must open your heart, too, and be touched, and perhaps changed, by what you have seen.

Chris Hoffman lives in the village of Sherburne in her 150+ year-old house where she caters to the demands of her four cats, attempts to grow heirloom tomatoes and herbs and reads voraciously. She passionately pursues various avenues with like-minded friends to preserve and protect a sustainable rural lifestyle for everyone in Central New York. 


2 comments to Between Seeing and Observing

  • Amy Yahna

    Wow….Thank you Chris. So sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing this moment with all of us. How so very fragile life and love are…..
    Love you
    Amy Yahna

  • Carol

    This came up on my Facebook feed. I had not se n it before. I intended to email or call you this weekend but was not feeling well.
    So sorry for your loss. Please give my sympathy to Pat as well.

    My thoughts are with you.

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