THE STRIDER AND THE SITTER - by Dick Weinman, The Thin Edge of Dignity
He strides slowly now. He’s older. That’s what we do in an ALF: grow older, more fragile, and wait. . . . . But not Ebanisto.
When I first saw him, as I gazed out the window while typing at the keyboard of my word processor, he walked buoyantly, as if there was no time to spare, to get to his destination. His head bobbed, his shoulders thrust forward, in anticipation of what awaited him: the mass at the church next door. He has made the walk across the parking lot three times a day since he arrived and I began seeing – and admiring his resolution and devotion.
As I watch him now, his stride is shorter, his steps are smaller. He takes more of them. He holds a cane to retain his balance as he steps forward. Enough years of living here have passed, and the natural processes of aging have crept up on us all. His physical self – his body – doesn’t match the assurance, the certitude, of his spiritual self – his mind and soul. It’s another day of many trips to the church next door to his home and back – the Assisted Living Facility in which we share residency.
No day goes by without his exuberant appearance at the front desk to sign out, his friendly “Buenos Dias” on first greeting and “Have a Good Day” on leaving. Then the peppy exit, as he traverses the parking lot on the way to his sanctuary: three times a day; through the fog and drizzle of a winter morning, after the noon meal, and into the dark of a winter evening.
On his way out of the ALF, he may pass the sitter, Paul, also a resident. Like the strider, his activity – if you can call it that – is all day, not several times like the strider. He sits in an upholstered, casual chair, warmed by the faux fire in the stone fireplace, a wears a smile of contentment; there’s liveliness to his eyes, and a relaxed curve to his shoulders. He’s a detached observer of the ins and outs of residents and visitors that constitute the rhythms of the external world, so different from the slowness and inertia of the inner world, of which he is an example, and in which most of us ossify. It seems that he is on guard at the outskirts of our domain, unperturbed by the gusts of cold air when the doors are open as people pass in and out. What does he think of, sitting for so long, no one to talk to; ever silent and smiling, even when someone sits in the chair next to him. And on that rare moment when both fireplace chairs are taken by another resident, he sits alone in the lobby chair, silently gazing out into the real world.
Does he reminisce? Dream? Or is he in a vacuum? There is no raised eyebrow, no movement of wrinkles, no “crow’s feet,” no parted lips; an immobile face, except for a ever-so-slight look of happy contentment. He’s as insouciant as the strider is excited about the expectation of the spiritual moment ahead of him.
Ebanisto could be considered “cute” by the young women who see us oldies when they are here in the ALF. He is short, wiry, with a round face. Wispy strands of hair straddle a bald pate. A stiff, iron-grey, well manicured mustache rises and falls from nose to lips as he displays his teeth in a continuous smile and polite patter. He has the charm – the machismo – of a tanned skin citizen of a Caribbean island country that he is.
Paul, on the other hand, has the pleasant, lined face of a mid-westerner. He’s also bald on top, with a circle of grey hair around his head. A flat voice tone, when he responds monosyllabically to a comment or question – “Yup.” With a pleasant smile.
He’s in no hurry, as he slowly rises, ambling toward his seat in the dining room, when he finally moves. But he’ll be back to his seat by the fire after lunch, just as Ebanisto scurries off to church. And he’ll most likely be there when Ebanisto returns and signs in.
These two men, have chosen to pass their lives in perpetual motion and immobility provide the constants of the day. They are the flux and the stasis, the life rhythm of the ALF.