A dear lady is slipping into eternity. Chronically ill through her adulthood, yet tremendously vibrant, she has etched something unforgettable inside me.
I almost lost the opportunity to get to know her. My purse was ripped off my shoulder as I tramped to the bus stop after work late on a gloomy October afternoon. That marked the first canceled appointment. The second miss was less dramatic. Mired in my circumstances and subsequent head fog, I again missed the bus. My second call-off roused her suspicions. The kind-hearted are not necessarily without wiles.
Two strikes behind me, I attempted one last time. I was desperate. A family situation was edging me out of my home. A friend had given me the name and number of a couple. He had told them about my situation and they were willing to meet me. Unable to get to their home, I called the woman. When I identified myself, her tone dropped to a cautious one. I plunged ahead anyway, pride long gone and nothing else to lose. I could tell she knew I wasn't messing with her goodwill by the sound of her "Ohhhh." I met Miriam and Ken three days later. They invited me into their home. I lived with them from early December until mid March -- more than a "boarder," not quite a member of the family. Their home was spacious and quiet, equally open to privacy and warmth.
I was a student and left for the day by 7:30 a.m. Both Miriam and Ken worked and arrived back home by 6 p.m., so I had the wonderful gift of solitude for a generous amount of time in the afternoon. The opportunity was all the more precious because of a special area of the house: the prayer room. The prayer room was actually a large closet. It was painted in a pumpkin shade. A long, narrow window on the west side let in the setting light of the winter sun. Earthen bowls filled with wax made candlelight. Icons of the Christian Madonna played with the shadows of dancing flames. I sat in the prayer room every day. I cried and prayed my way into a solution that was truly an unasked, unsought for answer to a dilemma that posed innumerable questions and a single, awful dread.
I shared supper with Ken and Miriam. After our meal, they would slip away to the prayer room. I was not expected to clean up the kitchen, but I chose to. I often ran the vacuum. I played their record collection, baked Christmas cookies. I was welcomed to make myself at home, and did so.
I was cocooned in great love those days. Not that my own family did not love me. It was a time when our love required thought, space and time. I left Miriam and Ken's home in the spring of 1981, but I will never forget them. Over the years, there have been visits, cards, phone calls, moves miles away and returns.
Last summer, I received a surprise voice message: Miriam now lived back home in Buffalo; could I come and see her? Then another message just before Easter: "Mom is asking for you. She is ready to go."
I was there in minutes, grateful to live close by; grateful to be a part of her living memory. She looked weak, but serene and alert -- anticipating heaven and a reunion with her beloved husband. She has known for more than 30 years that I love her. That day I told her why: "You loved me for no reason. You didn't have to, but you did."
An enduring legacy for me forever to pay forward.
Joanie Luangpakdy, who lives in Tonawanda, has been married for more than 30 years and has two children.