Connecting Amid A Crisis
Posted by Allyson Scott
We walk our dogs less often when it’s cold out, and even less frequently when there is a stay at home order amidst a worldwide pandemic.
The last week of March was bitter, but we did a dutiful trudge through our neighbourhood, dragging along our elderly 100-lb mastiff. Her pace leaves us plenty of time for contemplation. She stopped outside a small house we’d passed hundreds of times, occasionally waving at the elderly homeowners when we saw them outside. The house appeared dark and closed up, and it occurred to us that we’d never seen a visitor there. Were they alone? Just how elderly were they? Would they be offended if complete strangers checked in on them?
It took a couple of days to work up the courage to write a letter, which we dropped in their mailbox on a Friday afternoon. On Monday, right around the time someone might check for mail, we received a phone message. “Hello, this is your neighbour, Denise. Well sometimes it’s Bernice. I have two names. And I just wanted to tell you how touched we were by your letter. My husband Robert is 92 and uses a walker, and I am 91, and we could use some help.”
She shared that their daughter and grandchildren live in Quebec, and can’t really be of assistance. They no longer drive, and even though they have managed to phone in a few grocery orders, deliveries arrived with some key items missing. “Do you think you could find us some Kleenex? And some paper towels? And some dishwasher tabs?” she asked, apologizing for the trouble.
It was a joy to set out on that mission for them, which involved several different stores, given the shortages. We left the fully-sanitized delivery on their porch, and phoned to let them know it was there.
“What are you, some kind of miracle worker?” Denise/Bernice asked, then insisted we return to pick up some money from her mailbox.
The bills were left sealed inside an envelope, which had our names (well, close enough) carefully written inside a slightly crooked heart. It was so touching that we can’t bring ourselves to recycle it.
Several days later there was another call from them, and another delivery from us. Then on Easter weekend, we picked up some potted flowers for ourselves, and decided to drop off a pot of tulips for them. Denise/Bernice called on Easter Sunday, but there was a moment of dead air on the line when I answered.
“I’m sorry, I knew I shouldn’t have phoned,” she said, her voice shaking. “I don’t mean to upset you.” Then she burst into tears. I assured her it was okay, and she said they were just feeling very sad about the holiday, and not being able to see anyone, or go for dinner at their favourite restaurant. “But I just wanted you both to know that the flowers you brought are a real bright spot, and they make me smile every time I look at them.” That was the best $8 we’ve ever spent.
The next time we spoke, I finally felt comfortable enough to ask about her two names. “Well, you see, I was born Bernice, and I never liked it. There was nobody under the age of 90 with that name. So about twenty years ago, I changed it.”
“You changed your name in your 70s?”
She laughed. “I guess it’s silly, but my husband was writing a column at the time that graded the popularity of names, and Bernice scored a zero. The name Denise scored an 8, and I figured that was close enough to my old name for me to remember it!”
On our last dog walk, we rounded the corner of her street, and found Denise waiting in the cold on the sidewalk for a taxi. She was on her way to the bank, but wasn’t wearing a face mask. We asked if she had one, and she said she didn’t, and didn’t know where to get one.
As luck would have it, a delivery just came in from our favourite Canadian green product company, etee (“everything touches everything else”), that included a couple of face masks we ordered a while ago.
We are able to pass these right along to Denise and Robert, because of a dear friend’s recent kindness: she made a surprise porch visit to several peoples’ homes, leaving behind handmade pleated face masks, homemade cookies, beautiful spring tulips, and a personal card. The gifts came on a day when we really needed them (and she is a world-class baker).
The week before, another close friend decided to make a point of finding a creative outlet during these difficult times, and painted us a card that included some very touching sentiments.
And then there were the clients who drove across the city after dark to leave a bag of coffee on our porch, knowing that we were out of it (and knowing that no one needs to see Jody without her morning coffee).
It seems that the old adage of “what goes around, comes around” holds true. Each of us has the opportunity every day to lift someone’s spirits or lend a hand, and a renewed sense of connection to people is the silver lining in this pandemic for us.
We are all in this together.