Janie (that’s what I’ll call her) has a wholehearted laugh that fills her entire being. With a round face and ever-present smile, Janie sees humor in any situation. And with years of being a therapist and an elementary school counselor, she’s seen some situations.
Janie’s effervescence is so bright that the first time her schoolteacher spouse saw her in the building he declared, “I’m going to marry that one.”
Every summer while my children were growing up, we’d spend the 4th of July week in a lake cabin next door to Janie’s family. By vacation’s end, I’d be refreshed and uplifted. Hours of laughing at Janie’s stories of assorted shenanigans were every bit as restorative as the sun, the water, and the rest.
When Janie retired, she and her husband divided their time between an apartment here in the city and a home near the beach. Janie’s love of the lighthearted was embraced daily by sitting in the sand with a good book, outdoor concerts, and fish tacos eaten alfresco.
I’m a slow learner. But Janie’s lessons in the value of lightening the heaviness of my own driven energy were as brilliant as her spirit was bright. The contrast to how I felt from my perpetual production of business and busyness to how I felt after merely an hour of Janie time was undeniable. With a social calendar full of parties, fundraisers, and art openings, I didn’t need more people or activities. But I needed Janie.
I began to track the times she would be in town. Not surprisingly, Janie has a group of girlfriends she’s been super tight with since high school, so I always felt lucky to get a bit of her. Just before the pandemic I flew to Florida for a weekend, purportedly to celebrate her birthday. The truth was I desperately needed my Janie fix.
Last weekend I got a text from Janie’s best friend.
“We’re across the street. Join us for coffee?”
“On my way” I typed as my heart leapt.
Janie smiled when she saw me approach their table. But there was no hug and the usual brightness in her eyes was gone. I wasn’t sure if she recognized me. I sat down between the two of them and braced myself by wrapping my hands around the warm latte awaiting me.
Janie joined the chatting, but only in singles words or odd short phrases. A few months ago, Janie was diagnosed with a rare brain disease. Gone, along with her ability to drive a car or balance a check book, was her capacity to even engage in certain simple conversations. The husband she once ran circles around was off this morning getting a brief respite from being her daily care provider. Her diagnosis is terminal.
She didn’t tell a single story. What Janie did, though, was to laugh. And laugh. I laughed, too. I laughed until I cried.
Who do you want more of in your life?
Do you cherish the simple gifts others give you?
Is there someone you want to reach out to today?