Friday, November 5, 2010
Stands Knee-High to Little
The first time I met Anna* I wouldn't have been surprised to look behind me and find I was being trailed by a blue ox. Although my husband is nearly a foot taller than I am, I'm not actually short, I'm of average height. Still, I'm not used to feeling enormous next to anyone. Anna's height definitely has her shopping in the petite section, but more than that, she has a tiny frame. This doesn't change the fact that she could likely kick my butt, and yours too. Probably at the same time without breaking a sweat.
"Hello, I'm Anna, you know my dog," She began. An auspicious start, I thought. I knew I was bound to like anyone who had already figured out that she was easily identified by dog association. She was right, I do know Mo, a.k.a. The Running Dog. I first met him following a snowstorm, as I shoveled the driveway. Nose streaming (me, not the dog), tail waving frantically (the dog, not me), I heard the familiar cry of "Noooooooooo!" as Anna's teenage daughter arrived seconds after Mo did. Mo is a gregarious creature. A fast, gregarious creature. He would eventually grow to be a gigantic size, but that first day I could have easily shoveled him aside. Instead I wiped my nose and played with the puppy. I have priorities, after all.
The day I noticed that Anna could be packed into a teacup for transport, she invited me to a barbecue she was hosting as a neighborhood get-together. Those sort of things are common around here, generally hosted by real estate agents, or people trying to sell candles, jewelry or political candidates. Networking in the suburbs, you get used to it.
"What's the occasion?" It's not that I'm against sharing a cup of coffee with folks just trying to build a client base, but I do like to know if I'm walking into one of those situations. Mainly, I confess, so that I know how much time to schedule before I can make a polite retreat. Coffee with the real estate agent across the street will take a quick twenty minutes. A political get-together means that I'm chronically ill with some Victorianesque malady for which there is no cure. I'm not above claiming the vapors, allergies, a decline of an overall nature.
Truthfully I just state that I'm unaffiliated but a liberal and take a pass. However, I always have a wicked urge to claim that I'm unable to attend due to a lack of smelling salts.
"Just trying to get to know everyone," Anna said with a smile.
I was a bit afraid that I was signing up for a literal Come-To-Jesus meeting, but I readily agreed. Then I had to convince Rob not to develop fictional rickets, scurvy, or consumption and get him to go. He agreed warily. He likes Mo too, after all.
No one was trying to save my immortal soul. Or get me to vote for anyone, sell me jewelry I'll never wear or candles with names like Harvest Fiesta, Spa Melody or Christmas Cookie. It turned out to be a get-together of people from around the town, and they all knew Anna from somewhere different. I was the only person from the neighborhood. Introduction after introduction marched by.
"I'm Steve, my wife and I play tennis with Anna," the people I played a game of pool with informed me.
"I'm Heather, Anna and I take Pilates together," said another.
And then something happened that made me understand what was going on, why I was encountering people from exercise classes, church, clubs and hobby groups:
"I'm Sandy, I know Anna from our divorced women group," A kind-eyed woman told me, "How do you know her?"
To each and all I answered truthfully, "She rang my doorbell and I already knew her dog."
She wasn't trying to sell anyone anything. Anna was just rebuilding as she'd done for years when her ex-husband's job took them around the country and the world. Nigerian art decorated one wall in her home, her teenage daughters talked about the schools they'd attended in Africa, and elsewhere. Then not long after she landed here Anna found out that her husband was behaving like a middle-aged cliche and all the nubile blonds that entails. At the age of 47 she showed him the door, found a job, and completely new to Colorado, set about building a new life for herself.
I'm not sure what really constitutes bravery. There's the kind of courage that it is easy to recognize, and appreciate. People who tackle terrorists aboard planes spring easily to mind. Soldiers who draw enemy fire trying to give their compatriots a chance at survival during heavy engagements. We know that kind of courage but there are all kinds.
Rob and I manned the grill at that first barbecue and talked to some of the most diverse people assembled all because they met a tiny woman who runs, bikes, plays tennis and invites people she meets to her home regularly. It turned into a rather regular occurrence.
Later today I'll be putting together some appetizers, and venturing across the street again to the home of a woman who told me something that stunned me:
"I'm shy," Anna admitted, and I nearly fell sideways into my bookcase as we stood in my home office. I'm being literal, thanks to reconstruction on an old injury, my balance isn't the greatest but it isn't just a bunch of pins and plates that had me tottering. I was genuinely astonished.
All of my life I've been an introvert that can do a stunning impression of an extrovert. It never occurred to me that fittest, tiniest, most outgoing specimen in the neighborhood was doing the same thing.
After that admission yesterday, I remembered something. That first time that I opened the door to Anna I'd noticed a small detail. As you approach my front door from the inside, there is a side window that allows whoever is on the other side to be visible from both sides. I'd spotted Anna, and remembered her from one of the times she'd come to fetch Mo. I smiled as I approached, and raised a hand in greeting. The straight-faced woman on the other side broke into a smile too, which is not unusual.
But I remember fleetingly thinking that she looked relieved. At the time I'd put it down to being preoccupied. Yesterday I learned that, in truth, she was doing something that was difficult for her, but doing it nonetheless.
When I told Rob that Anna was having a get-together, he sounded a little regretful that he wouldn't be able to attend.
"It's good of you to go," he said. "I know parties aren't your favorite thing."
It's true, I prefer to get together with friends one-on-one but I liked Anna from the first, with her dog as a calling-card, ready-to-return-a-smile personality.
"Do you feel sorry for her?" Rob asked, knowing that, generally speaking I only attend parties because I feel like I should.
I thought back for a moment, to all the people who had introduced themselves to me. How the woman that knew Anna through Pilates had suffered a rather dreadful injury in a fall. She was a little plump, but told me of how much weight she had lost and felt confident she could lose more.
"Anna was there encouraging me every step of the way," she said proudly. I found it easy to believe. This from a woman who is every bit as fit as an Olympic athlete. Truly, Colorado wins the leanest state slot every time those things are estimated. We have an unusually active population and Anna is still considered unusually active here.
"No," I answered Rob, "I don't feel sorry for her. I like her. I'm not sure I have all that much in common with her, but I like her."
It's her ex-husband who has my pity. Upon realizing that he had made a dreadful mistake, he had promised the Earth and Sky if only he could be forgiven. Offers Anna turned down even though she was in a state where she knew no one, she preferred to go it alone.
Every now and then in life, you meet someone who is remarkable in the quietest of ways. Who has the kind of courage it is easy to admire if only we take a couple of moments to recognize it.
Anna is, at most, a size zero. She stands maybe 5'1" after a deep inhale, yet she's awfully easy to look up to.
So I feel a bit sorry for her husband that he realized that too late.
* Not her actual name, but all else is true