Yesterday morning around 6 o’clock I stopped at hospice en route to a conference. Turning the corner to the lounge–where visitors and patients often sit, work on puzzles, watch TeeVee, read the paper, or socialize–I noticed a walker with a coffee cup on it and, next to it on the sofa, someone’s pyjama-clad arm. Focussed on my early-morning mission, I could easily have walked by and no-one would have known the difference. Yet something made me stop, turn, and look in on the lone visitor. A woman, her bathrobe neatly layered over her night gown, grey hair freshly combed, sat staring at nothing in particular.
Good morning, I said, lowering myself in an armchair opposite. Hello, she replied with a lovely smile, there was an elephant in my room. O my, I said, is it still there? No, no … they’re cleaning the room and it’ll have to go. Where will it go, I wondered. Not to worry, it’ll come back later, but no more messing in my room.
And so our conversation continued, jumping from topic to topic without apparent links. Not once did I doubt or hesitate, regardless of how bizarre her topic or depiction. Not once did I feign interest or pretend to be curious: our encounter was genuine.
Eventually I did have to go. Rising to leave, I introduced myself. And mine is Beatrice, I’m 82, she replied in all graciousness. What a fine name, I said as I bent to kiss her hand, may you have a wonderful day. I enjoyed meeting you.