We escape the tight embrace of damp heat by plunging our bodies into the lukewarm swimming pool in the hour before supper. It's warmer now than it was last week but the pool is deserted. No children ring our bell or run boisterously through our house. Such is the desolation wrought by the return to school. We swim alone most days. The only people to keep us company are the elderly, and the very small. There is the old Indian gentleman who walks with a cane, he can say no more than 20 words in English and greets us with a stately nod. He always says “Good evening”, nothing else. He likes to sit near the playground when we are there, or near the pool when we swim. He is always alone. I try to smile and take the time to greet him.
A Filipino grandma pushes her 1 year old granddaughter around in a stroller. Her spare frame and bright smile a flashback to the girl she once was. They come to play at our door, or find us in the pool if we are not at home while they wait for the middle generation to return.
A woman is learning to swim. She is 56. She strokes mostly underwater, forgetting to kick most of the time. Her brown arms pull her very slowly across the pool. Her husband teaches her another stroke to try, mocking her fondly. His accent and sarcasm tell me he is not from here but from a cold and foggy island off the coast of Normandy. I ask him how he ended up here in San Diego and he gestures toward his wife saying, “I married an American.”
I am surprised. I thought she was from Japan; her English is thickly accented. Her dignified face is beautiful. I let her hold the Baby. She tells me her three boys are all in their twenties now. She misses having a baby to hold. I feel the pull of a common bond, a mother’s heart pulls us toward each other across years and language and culture. We are opposing bookends of the life bearing journey.
Another woman comes to swim, dragging her laundry with her. I eye her warily. She has a mullet that falls below her elbows, with tiny short grey curls on top. I never know what she’s going to say. Last summer she told me she never goes to the other pool in our community. She called it the Mexican bathtub. She is often rude, though never towards me. She takes care of her nephew almost exclusively, tells me his mother was a drug addict, and through her talk I get glimpses of a broken family, of people trying to make the best of it, and deep ignorance.
A father to the fatherless,
I sometimes feel like she says things out of habit, trying to make conversation, grossly unaware of how inappropriate she is. I’d like to just label her a crusty old racist, but I can’t. I want people to be black and white but they aren’t, and I can’t dismiss her so casually.
A defender of widows,
Last time I saw her she brought me a bag of adorable little girl clothes. They still have tags on them. She bought them for a girl who is no longer in her life, and so she brings them to me instead. I am grateful.
So many people looking for human contact.
God sets the lonely into families.
We leave the water and get dressed once more. The familiar routines of eating and bathing and reading lull short people asleep and all is quiet. The heat presses against us and the Baby wakes, wet with perspiration, and cranky.
I stand with her outside the front door, singing to lull her to sleep. She smiles and laughs as a woman passes by. I sense her discomfort. I too have paced in the cool night air, belly bursting with life, unable to sleep because of the heat and weight, seeking some relief. I too have paced as I try to order my heart and wrestle with fear and rollercoaster emotions. She says hello, and I laughingly explain that the Baby won’t sleep. Her baby is keeping her awake too. I turn briefly and she keeps walking but I feel that this moment isn’t over yet, that there is a reason I am standing outside just as she passes by. She stops within sight, 10 feet away, and I try to start again. “When are you due?”
She does not hear me, and I am feeling too awkward to repeat myself but a moment later she walks back toward me, “How old is she?”
“Eight months,” I reply.
We are using an age old formula. How many bonds between women have been forged through these simple questions? Again I ask, “When are you due?”
“In five days, and I’m so scared because I’ve started having contractions and they didn’t feel very good. My whole family is telling me it will be the worst pain I’ve ever felt and the stories about it lasting for 12 hours or more…”
She trails off and swallows back tears and I think to myself, “12 hours, that’s not bad.” But I don’t say so to her.
Instead I tell her honestly that it does hurt, but I’ve had worse pain. I try in 30 seconds or less to give her the strength she needs to bring this baby into the world. I tell her that she can do it, she will find the strength, and I wish her well. I want to hug her and force through her skin into her heart all that she needs, but I know each of us must find it for ourselves and so I say goodnight, and watch her walk away but I am still holding her in my heart and mind, praying that she will have peace.
I stare at my own Baby girl, grinning up at me and at the stars. Do you suppose God whispered in her sleeping ear, waking her when she did? Did he want me to be standing outside my door in the dead of night, baby in hand, ready to speak words of comfort?
the God of Israel gives power and strength
I like to think so.