These are the months when the sky can’t hold up the clouds, they are so heavy with rain. Weepy and weary, those clouds hang close to the earth and close to my soul. Even though I have no reason to be sad, I feel it when day after day the heavens can’t stop crying.
It is raining harder than ever when my neighbor calls. Her refrigerator is feeling warm and the ice cubes are getting all melty in the freezer. I know nothing about large appliances, or small ones, for that matter, but I tell her I’ll slosh my way over to her house so we can stare at it together.
Mrs. Smith lives all alone now. It’s been over two years since her husband went into their bedroom to put on his shoes and never walked back out. She calls sometimes just to tell me what she had for lunch and to ask me if I think it’s safe to eat the mayonnaise that’s been sitting in a fridge that seems to be a bit too warm. She calls me sometimes, I think, just because she knows I was there that day.
“It’s not that old,” Mrs. Smith says while contemplating her refrigerator. “Mel bought it back in 2005.” But it was older than that, the service man tells her. It’s hard to believe it could have been that long because she remembers when they bought it. She remembers the fridge before this one and suddenly it seems like her entire life is parsed out between Whirlpools and Frigidaires.
Mrs. Smith tells me all this while I stand in her kitchen, vacuuming the coils on the back of her fridge like she’s asked. I wish I knew what to do. I know she wishes it too. Instead, I relive her of her condiments—two mustards, a bottle of Worcestershire sauce and a jar of hot horseradish she bought just for her grown-up son because she remembers he likes it—and I trudge back home.
I hear Mrs. Smith’s voice calling out from behind the door. It’s a heavy, metal screen door and I can’t see her face. She likes it that way because it makes her feel safe when she’s home all alone at night. “Thank you for your help!” the door speaks to me in Mrs. Smith’s voice.
I smile and nod, but I feel kind of bad because I really didn’t help at all. So I tell her to call me later, and I know she will because it’s crying outside, and on days like this, Mrs. Smith always calls. It wasn’t crying the day Mr. Smith died, but it’s been crying many days since. It helps her, I think, just to know someone is close enough to listen.
When I get home, the kids swarm the box of goodies from Mrs. Smith’s and discover the cookies she tucked into the box under a jar of ham glaze. I am fairly certain cookies won’t spoil no matter how long the fridge has been off, but that’s not why they’re there. They’re there because it’s been raining since November and Mrs. Smith has been counting the number of days it’s been since she’s seen my kids splashing around in her backyard.
They’re there because it’s been two years since Mr. Smith died and she can’t help but find someone closer to love. They’re there because Jeff had been gone for too many months, and Mrs. Smith understands something about that, and she feels it just about as much I do.
They’re there because it’s Mrs. Smith’s way of listening, of staring at the fridge with me even though she can’t really help.
It’s kind of the deal we have.
So on this beautiful day of motherhood, when the rain hung down and spilled over into my day, and I felt like I must have packed all my joy away with my Christmas decorations, I am thankful for the opportunity to listen even when I can’t help. I’m thankful for friends who hear even when I haven’t spoken a word. Most of all, I’m thankful for neighbors who let me in and keep me there just so I know someone is close enough to help.
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