My 77-year-old friend Dona and I were looking through her photo albums awhile back. Amidst photos of her younger self–daughter, teacher, principal, wife–were small, black and white 1950s photos from a trip she took to Glacier National Park with her parents.
I was elated. In these little purchased snapshots from the gift shop, I recognized my own photos, taken when Ian and I camped at Glacier four years ago.
“I have these exact pictures,” I gushed, “Ian and were in these same places and took the same pictures.”
Dona wasn’t impressed.
She was going to pitch the photos, so I asked if I could have them. At home that afternoon, I dug out my photos and paired several of mine with hers.
There are layers of magic I see in her photos and mine. That the gorges, waterfalls, and mountaintops look exactly the same 60 years later is heartening. We grow older and our memories may dim, but the land holds its own—for now. I wonder what the difference will be when Ian compares our photos with those 60 years from now.
These pictures are also tangible proof of one more link between Dona and me.
I’m an ardent connector. In fact, I can drive people to distraction pointing out how everything is connected. Or, to use Dona’s vernacular, “It just nuts.” I don’t work hard, though, to see that she and I walk a parallel ridgeline.
Dona and I share a love of food and trying new snacks. We have a curious fondness for Cheetos (I once wrote her an acrostic poem that spelled out Cheetos). We can’t imagine life without dogs in it (she currently owns her 18th and 19th dogs). We must have coffee around the clock; we wish we were better piano players than we are but find joy in what melodies we produce anyway. We’ve both tried our hands at the ukulele, too–she much more successfully than I. We grew up in the same places, went to the same University, and were married to our former husbands for the exact number of years. We’re both suspicious of people who lack good humor. She is one of the happiest people I know, and funniest. Her smile is big and her laugh frequent. She played one of the best April Fool’s jokes on me once, convincing me that I had to remove a snake from her garage. Her deadpan face and concerned urgency about the snake had me from the get go. Then that beautiful, mischievous smile grew wide across her face and she said, “Never mind. April Fools!”
We are joined by our love for my kid who mows Dona’s grass and helps out with her koi pond and various other odd jobs. We also share the frustration of his terrible forgetfulness, compensated ten-fold by his loving devotion to her. She reminded me recently, as we dug up dandelions in her back yard, that I was about the age her daughter would have been had she lived beyond infancy.
We are, all of us, connected by experiences and commonalities. But there is also the need for connection. I suppose this is why I dribble out words on a blog page every once in awhile, why my dog sleeps each night in the bend of my knees, why my kid has his iPhone grafted to his palm. The desire for someone just to know our stories is great, and often we find in our lives just whom we need.
As we go puttering around Dona’s yard, or gobbling sandwiches at the bagel shop, or over morning coffee, we’ve talked about the possibility of Heaven and if we’d really want to go there anyway, the best pizza in town, the best flowers for attracting butterflies, are men really necessary when you have a dog, and a litany of other ideas from reincarnation to good books to the best way to get rid of cobwebs.
And while Dona has heart-wrenching and hilarious stories to fill the hours, she lives very much in the present. She’s aware of what’s happening in the world, and loves it anyway. She is still learning, playful, curious, alive. She embraces technology like a child with a new toy. She and Ian just drove to the Mac store 40 miles away last week so that they could test out the new Apple watch–and she ordered one! No doubt, she’ll sync it to her iPhone and Macbook and iPad.
Dona has often reminded me of the lines from that Bukowski poem where he understands what Whitman meant when he wrote, “I sing the body electric”:
to be completely alive every minute
in spite of the inevitable.
we can’t cheat death but we can make it
work so hard
that when it does take
it will have known a victory just as
Perhaps this is the best story my beloved old lady friend and I share, that desire to live life as a perfect victory.