Within two hours, I'll be surrounded by nine smiling ladies and one man. There will probably be one or two canes and a walker crowded in among the purses and feet. The chairs will be tricky to maneuver but everyone will be gracious as they move between the tables that fill the room. Thousands of beads will be spread out on those tables and I'll be just a little frantic as always, trying to make sure everybody has what they need at once.
It's a scene that's played out in my life at least once a month - sometimes more - over the past few years. Some of the faces will change. Occasionally I won't notice, and often I will - as when I realized Nettie hadn't come in a while and inquired. I was told she's now living in a nursing home, although nobody can tell me which one. I inquire again and again, thinking I'd like to visit her or at least send a card. Knowing me, it's likely I'd forget anyway, even if I knew where to find her.
Recently, while sorting through the overly-scattered projects of my loosely-constructed career, I decided that quite a few things have to go. I design websites and I design jewelry. So no more book layout projects. And, I thought then, no more seniors beading classes. It breaks my rhythm to pull together the supplies, to make sure when I order for my own designs that I add enough beads to my order that I'll please everyone. I wonder, while placing those orders, "What color did Olivia ask for? Didn't Nora tell me she wishes she had more that look like this?" It gets frustrating, especially when I arrive with my suitcase of goodies, and lay out the new pieces and see a raised eyebrow, hand reach for something else. Sometimes I nail it; at others I'm dead wrong. Hassles. And these mornings when I wake and plot the hours, the downtown traffic, the parking lot where sometimes I have to park on the street (and that time I got the parking ticket I promptly forgot about, not remembering to pay it until the fee had doubled,) I sigh and I groan all morning long. But I lug the suitcase and the supply bag and I roll into the room and those faces - of people who come to my class and those who never do - all grin at me. "It's the bead lady!" someone who doesn't know me will call out. "Melody! I can't come today because I didn't make the list. But I have to have my hug!" I roll my suitcase between the tables in the huge room filled with people my Granddaddy's age and through the door to the crowded library where we gather, and I'm starting to warm to the idea.
I called the director to tell her I would do two more sessions - since we've limited each session to ten (it's all I can handle at once, I finally realized,) and I have so many "regulars," I wanted to make sure everyone got one more class. Our conversation didn't go as planned. She was shocked, and I heard it in her voice immediately, then wondered to myself why I was surprised. Aside from Bingo, my little class is, I was told by this director's predecessor, the most popular offering. I answered her questions falteringly. "I don't have time." (It's two hours a month. Plus shopping and organizing and drive time. Okay, four hours a month.) "I'm always running late, sometimes I rush them through their projects to make sure we fit it in. There's probably somebody else who would be so much better." The response: any pressure I feel is coming from me, not them. They love me; nobody feels rushed. Apparently a day doesn't pass when someone doesn't ask when I'm coming back. Everything that came from my mouth sounded like somebody else talking. By the time I hung up, I told her to table the conversation...pretend we hadn't had it. I'd give it more thought. Maybe a few hours a month weren't that big a deal.
And by the time I hung up, I wasn't thinking of the incessant reorganizing of the bead trays as I try to put red beads back with reds and purple with purple. I wasn't thinking about the rush to get inside the room before the clock told me, once more, how late I would be starting. Wasn't thinking about trying to remember to find those clip-on earring parts with loops for our beads, for the handful of people who don't have pierced ears, and how I so often forget to look when I'm focused on buying for my own designs. I don't design clip-on earrings, and so it's a small hassle. I wasn't thinking of the hassle at all.
Talking to a friend that night, I shared my struggle. Since I'd had a similar conversation recently with another friend, encouraging me to pare down, streamline my activities, I was expecting more of the same. He surprised me. "How often do you go?" Now, once a month. "How many hours?" Just a few. "Do you know how much they look forward to you being there?" Yes. "Do you realize what a big deal your coming probably is? How little there sometimes is to look forward to in their lives?" Um. "It's not a very big commitment for you, really, these few hours a month." Then me: "They love me." Him: "Of course they do!" And I love them, too. Which is why the whole "decision" was such a tricky one.
Never mind I don't look forward to it before I go. Never mind I complain and moan all morning long. I'm always, always glad when I've been. I get my hugs, I make my little jokes, get my little laughs, hear of the tidbits of their lives: who just got back from a cruise, who's worried about her son in Vermont who doesn't take care of himself, who just had cataract surgery, whose brother just died, who sang in the church performance, who just had a weekend visit with the "grands."
I'm going back today. And again next month. And the month after that. It's not a business decision. It's a community decision. A heart decision. A soul decision. Go figure...