When I was a kid, I was a big crier. I cried as a baby. I cried when Mary Beth Mulligan seemed to prefer playing with my little sister over me, even though Mary Beth was my age and should have been my friend. I cried when my sister didn't share her toys. I cried in public: in 4th grade Mr. Tembrull (Mr. T we'd call him in our 1970's public-yet-posing-as-a-hip-boho-private-Montessori-like-grade-school-with-raised-carpeted-platforms-and-bean-bag-chairs-and-teachers-we'd-call-Mr. T-or Miss B-giving-us-the-false-impression-it-was-all-free-to-be-you-and-me elementary school) had us do multiplication tests on the chalkboard. He'd pit two of us against each other for time. I was a) not great at math b) very slow at math and c) a crier. So you can imagine. It was akin to wetting your pants in the playground. Completely uncool and completely humiliating. My mother would say "there are people worse off than you" in order to give me perspective and stop the tears, but still, they'd fall and I'd cry. Let me assure you, reader, at this point. I was a fairly healthy kid both physically and mentally in a stable family with the requisite amount of normal disfunction. Which is to say, nobody was beating me and there were no really big dramas that would be some underlying cause of the crying jags. I was just a blubbering kid. I was far from cool. I think the public crying stopped by the time I hit 7th grade. By that time I'd discovered bras and boys and was equally concerned with popularity, getting straight As and Nick Caringi.
Tonight I'm going to confess something. I was not nice to a stranger. I wasn't a bitch. But I was short and snippy, I was tired, and I could have been nicer. I would take it all back if I could. The late night hotel clerk. I'd requested a non smoking room. I lugged my heavy luggage and guitar up to the 3rd floor to find a smoking hall and a disgustingly smoky room. Lugged everything back down. Told her. She said the hotel was sold out. I said, 'is there anything you can do? I have asthma (true)' She found another room, gave me the key. I went to the room. It was freezing and the heater/air conditioner was stuck and wouldn't work. Went back. Now, it was 1:30am, I'd driven 5 hours, done a gig, did a radio show, and gotten to the hotel. As well, yesterday I'd driven 5 hours, had a horrible conversation on the phone that left me grieving and exhausted by the side of the road with about 10 minutes to get myself together before I was to be live on air for a radio show, done the radio show, still numb from the personal earthquake, survived a tornado (I'm serious), done a show, cried myself to sleep. So. It was a bad few days, or, rather, a challenging few days. And the third room the hotel clerk gave me seemed fine, so I unpacked, got into my sweats and then the high pitched short beep of the carbon monoxide detector started in and I realized the device was broken. I called the clerk. She mispronounced my name "Mrs. Speechy". And I just asked her (perhaps I was cranky, its possible) to either move me to another room (again) or come up and help me tear this stupid device off the wall if it wasn't going to stop beeping.
The knock on the door came fairly soon thereafter and the clerk, a large woman who could have been anywhere from late 20's to late 30's came into the room, stood on one of the beds to reach the alarm, and fiddled with it for 20 minutes. All I could think about was my last few days and I was barely holding it together, emotions threatened to spill uncontrollably out of my pores that weren't appropriate nor were they wanted, but there they were, knocking on my chest and behind my eyes and in my gut and I thought I was going to lose it. And then....she fixed it. And I softened. And as she came down off the bed, and I was profusely thanking her, and even apologizing for my tone, giving all sorts of excuses, she turned to me very graciously to say 'thank you' and I saw that tears were backing up in her large, sad eyes. And I said, 'are you ok?' and she had her hands together in a clasped wringing, the "I'm barely keeping it together" gesture that I know very well. She shook her head and nodded--both no and yes at the same time -- and smiled that kind of "If I say anything I might just cry so hard I won't ever stop" apologetic smile of the broken-hearted. I tried to stammer something of comfort and she said, 'God will provide. He always has. I am praying for strength and I believe I will have it' and I thought how brave of this woman to just tell me this, and I had a thought of my own pain, and that whatever hers was was larger, more enveloping, and then I had that feeling that we are all in the same boat. The same damn, sad, lonely, jubilant, sometimes blissfull, sometimes heartbreaking, thank-God-we're-all-together boat. And I wanted to hug her but my legs wouldn't move and she let a tear or two fall and then nodded to me, as if to say "I see the same in you and we'll be fine" and I thanked her for coming to help and she went out the door and back to her desk, wiping her eyes.
My own sadness was just wiped away by this woman, who came into the room to fix the alarm of some bitchy, tired, stranger.
Life lessons come in strange wrappings. I wish this woman a week of peace. A month of serenity and ease. I think she'll make it through. She has that kind of grounding, I could see it.
Candlesticks and battened hatches
Deck of cards and waterproof matches
We'll stay warm through the storm
Come what may
We've got all we need, no reason to complain
When the world's been raining, raining, raining
Cats and dogs
When the world's been flooded, flooded
All the dry land is gone
All we've got left
Is each other and this boat we're on
(Chuck E. Costa, 'Battened Hatches')