Monday, September 9, 2013

Ideas and Old Ladies

Image via Pimthida on Flickr

The other night my daughter and I were catching up on “Project Runway.” I’d been looking forward to it all day. They were just about to start the critiques, when someone knocked on our door. I was very surprised to find my elderly neighbor on my front porch, wearing what appeared to be pajamas.
My neighbor is from Vietnam. She doesn’t speak English and, frankly, can be a bit crabby. (It wasn’t uncommon for her to yell at my three kids when they were younger or to scold our dogs from over the fence.) Clearly, something was amiss for her to come to our door at 9:00 at night. But she was smiling and nodding and motioning me outside.

The woman took my hand and led me to her house. I thought maybe someone was hurt. Several generations live at the house, perhaps one of the young girls who like to play on the sidewalk needed help.  But, again, the old lady didn’t seem frantic. She let go of my hand and twisted her doorknob. 

“Oh!” I said. “You’re locked out.” I’m sure she had no idea what I’d just said, but finally we were getting somewhere.

The old woman took my arm again and began leading me down the sidewalk. And pointing. Did someone in the neighborhood have a spare key? Did she need me to translate for her? 

Then she began pointing up the road and waving around. 

I still didn’t understand what she wanted from me. I pulled out my cellphone, hoping she just needed to make a call. But she waved it away. 

 All I could do was smile and shake my head in what was, hopefully, the universal sign for “I’m sorry. I don’t understand.”

She was locked out. She was alone. I obviously wasn’t going to leave her outside so I began heading the two of us back to my house and tried to ignore the voice in my head that asked, “What the hell are you going to do with a 90 year old Vietnamese woman all night?!”

But then my neighbor stopped me in the driveway, by husband’s car. She pointed to it, to me and then waved her hand again up the road. 

Aha! Now I got it. She wanted me to drive her somewhere! 

I got my keys, belted the woman in and took off down the road, all the while watching for her frail hand to point which way to go. It may seem selfish, but I hoped wherever she needed to go wasn’t too far. I was already feeling awkward. (I kept wondering what would happen if we were in an accident. I didn’t even know the woman’s name.) 

As luck would have it, she directed to me the next development over. We found the house she was looking for and - huge relief - someone was there. A young man who came out to tell me she could stay there while she waited for someone to bring a key. The woman smiled and said probably the only two English words she knows, “Thank you.” 

As I drove home, I started to think about how ideas are like that little old lady. Sometimes they show up at really inconvenient times and dressed inappropriately. They  desperately want to tell us something, show us something, or take us somewhere. And we stand there, utterly confused. But if we take their hands and trust that the desire to be understood or to understand often gives us great patience, then maybe they’ll take us on an adventure. 

And if we’re really lucky, they’ll give us an opportunity to do something good, to write a book. Maybe for that one kid or teenager who can’t tell anyone what’s wrong. Or who feels locked out from “normal.” Or who is wandering around in their bare feet, needing somewhere safe to go for a while. 

Who knows? That one reader might just be the kid who lives next door. 


  1. I'm thinking your neighbor somehow knew you would be open to helping her. Ideas are a bit like that, too. You have to be open to them. This is a very thought-provoking post. Maybe it'll provoke some writing ideas, too.

  2. Wonderful post! Yes, it's so easy to dismiss opportunities that don't look the way we expect.


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