Thursday, 10 October 2013

Cubes of carrot cake

I cried today, in a cafe. 

It took me completely by surprise. Two ladies came in and sat down at a table not far away from me. One was elderly and frail, and the other, I think, was her daughter.  

She settled her mother at a table, helping her into her seat, tucking her walking frame out of the way behind her chair, and then she went to fetch coffee and cake. 

I watched the old lady as she breathed out the exertion of the walk across the cafe from the lift and looked around her. She hadn't put in her teeth today, and so the lower half of her face was soft and misshapen. Her hair was thin and wispy and her skin translucent and spotted with age. Her eyes were pale and vague. 

Her daughter came back and unloaded a tray onto the table. She placed a milky coffee in front of her mother and sat down heavily as if she was weary. Then she reached over and cut the older lady's slice of carrot cake into cubes with the side of a fork. The old lady smiled and said something and began to eat her cake with a trembling hand.

I found I had tears on my face. It wasn't just the tenderness of a daughter for her mother, and it wasn't just the frailty of the old lady. It wasn't the obvious enjoyment of a slice of cake, an outing with her daughter. It was something more.

It sounds obvious, but it hit me powerfully. 

That old lady was young, once. 

She was fit and vital and energetic and on the ball. She had all her teeth, all her hair and all her faculties. She cut up cake for her daughter. 

And now she's old; now the world sees her walking with assistance, hesitant and frail. The world sees a walking frame and a hand on the elbow and a mouth of gums. It sees dryness and transparency and confusion. It sees not-yet-but-soon. It sees and it assesses and it discards. 

I know an elderly lady with a pacemaker and a history of cancer surgery and a limp who's out of breath with a bag of groceries, and she used to be a speed skater. I heard that for the first time and I raised my eyebrows and laughed. Why?  Because I see an old lady. 

We look at people and we think that we see them. I looked at the lady in the cafe and I saw dependency, difficulty, age and infirmity. I have no idea what else there was. That lady might have been an acrobat, an actress, a solicitor, a campaigner. She might have written bestselling books, or painted pictures, or made stained glass. She might have walked the country to raise money for charity, or jumped from a plane with a parachute, or been in the running for a Nobel prize, but I saw that her daughter cut up her cake for her and that her hand trembled as she raised a bite to her mouth. 

We think we know what we see. What do people see when they look at me? They see an overweight middle aged woman who doesn't want to be looked at. They see a woman who hurriedly brushes her hair and puts on some make up in the morning then rarely checks it until she takes it off at night - and yes, she wonders how long it's been smudged. They see my shape, my clothes, my expression, and they think they know who I am. They don't see what's inside.

They see a harassed mum, rushing round the supermarket, waiting at the school gates, frumpy in jeans and cardi. They see the heavy woman in the queue favouring her left leg because her right hip hurts, if indeed they see me at all. Why should they? I don't have arresting beauty or youth or really anything that catches the eye. Why should anyone even notice me?

They don't see a heart that burns for you, Lord. They don't see the ideas, the hopes, the dreams, the intensely important things that only you see. They don't see the essence of me. 

I am full of protestations that there is more to me than meets the eye. And I saw that old lady and wondered who she was, who she used to be, and then realised that I'd done exactly that thing: she is still the lady she used to be. She's still the girl who walked down the aisle with that young man. She's the mother who rocked her baby all night. She's the woman who cooked and worked and laughed and loved. 

And dreamed dreams. I'm sure she still does. I hope she still does.

We think we know who people are, and we make our instant judgements based on the little we see. We accept or reject with so little information. We look and look away.

But there's so much more. Everything that's important is invisible. 

In this world, we decay. Lips get thinner, waistlines fatter. Eyesight fades, hearing declines and soft, smooth skin discolours, dries and wrinkles. In this world we shrink as we age, and our value diminishes until our worth is negligible. Not so with you. 

What comfort that is. What a comfort to know that you see beyond the obvious; you know the soul deep inside. We are not defined by the world's assessment of us. That when the outside of us lets us down, as it always, inevitably will, we are still precious. Still valued. Still seen

I am so much more than the woman surreptitiously wiping away tears in a cafe. That lady is so much more than a walking frame and a tremor. 

I hope it was good carrot cake. I bet it was not as good as the one she used to make. 



32 comments:

  1. I am supposed to be having a writing day but I'm procrastinating and the I found this! So glad I did. It's a reminder to stop and get to know people instead of making snap judgements.
    Your writing is beautiful and so are you - just remember I have met you and I didn't see "an overweight middle aged woman", yes I saw a woman who was trying to hide but I wondered why because she is pretty with a lovely soft smile, I saw the sort of woman who I could share a secret with or cry on her shoulder. I saw a young woman full of love and as I keep reading your words I know this is true!

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    1. Sarah, thank you for your lovely words. They mean so much to me.

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  2. Oh, Helen, this brought tears to my eyes. I love how you see others through your tender heart and writerly lens, the wonderful sensitivity and perception of your worldview. And yet you appear to fail to see the great beauty that resides in you. God shines so strongly from you, my friend. I agree with Sarah. Having met you in the flesh it was the kindness and warmth you exuded, the sweetness of your shy smile, loving helpfulness and concern for the welfare of others that was clearly evident to me. I saw a young woman with a humble, receptive spirit who is pretty, lovely, and on fire for Jesus. And we see it in your lovely writing as well as face to face. As Sarah says, "Your writing is beautiful and so are you". Please don't let anyone tell you otherwise - least of all yourself. You exude the grace and goodness of God and I am honoured to know you. Sorry to run on..I'm having a quiet day and reading more than writing myself. I'm grateful for this portrait you have observed and painted for us to think about. But I am eager for you to take positive things from it too. Blessings and love Xx

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    1. Oh, Joy, you and Sarah have made me cry! I don't know what to say in response to your kindness.
      Thank you so much. I am honoured to know you too. Lots of love.
      Bless you.

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  3. I had wet eyes reading this beautiful piece of writing. You 'got' me, Helen Murray Mint x

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  4. I had wet eyes reading this beautiful piece of writing. You 'got' me, Helen Murray Mint x

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  5. Oh goodness, this has finished me today. That was me and my Mum until recently and now it's me and my Dad, doing for them what they did for me. I wish there was someone like you in the cafe when I'm there. Oh gosh, pass the tissues again.

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    1. Helen, I feel for you. Thank you for commenting. Saying a prayer for your Dad and for you. x

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  6. Wow, this is straight from the heart Helen. I loved every word and point with you made, every wrinkle tells a story and every action comes from a place within. Thank you for sharing this with me today xx

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    1. You're welcome! Thank you for reading and taking the trouble to comment, Melanie. It means a lot.

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  7. Made me cry, Helen, in part because of the beauty and simplicity of your writing and sentiments, and in part because that old lady is my mother. But she's an old lady who is bullied and neglected, shouted at and ignored. Not by me. But by those with whom she lives and once loved. And I cry, inside, every day for her and for those like her. The ones who once were boundless in their affection, generosity and hospitality, yet now end their days in sadness and loneliness.

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    1. Merrilyn, I don't know what to say - that is so sad. I'm saying a prayer for your mother and for you too. x

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  8. You are SUCH a good writer, Helen.

    *wipes eyes on sleeve*

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    1. Amy, coming from you that's high praise. Thank you.

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  9. You are SUCH a good writer, Helen.

    *wipes eyes on sleeve*

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  10. Your words are beautiful. I think we all carry that fear of not being seen. Thank you for the reminder that we are loved and known by heart even when we feel invisible in the eyes of the world.

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    1. Thank you so much for reading and 'getting it' and thinking to leave a comment. Thank you.

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  11. You are on fire, girl! What a gift he has given you... What beautiful, sensitive writing, You see right into the heart of things and express it so keenly. And i wholeheartedly agree with both Sarah and Joy. You are beautiful; radiant. You have the warmest smile and the brightest eyes and a face that shines with your love of Jesus. Believe it. We all see it and so does He - he made you. Thank you for blessing us all today with your words. Emma

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    1. Thank you SO much, my friend. And thank you for today's talking to... without which I doubt I'd be back here right now. x

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  12. Helen this is brilliant:-) really makes ya think. I'll take more notice in future:-)

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    1. Thank you, Rowena. Thanks for stopping by. :-)

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    1. Thank you, Ben! Thank you indeed.

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    1. Thank you! Greetings to my friend in the Netherlands. :-)

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  15. I love this. It makes me think of my dad, one of the most interesting men I've ever known, and how little, really, that I knew or understood about him as a young man before I was born. Beautiful as only you can do. :)

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    1. Oh, Ginger, thank you, friend across the sea. Bless you for your encouragement.

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