The Chair on the Curved Driveway

How many times have we passed the house with the chair on the curved driveway?

At least weekly since we started walking this route over a year ago.

The chair is always there. However, whether six months ago or when this picture was recently taken, it moves more often than Easter’s date on a calendar.

Kynzi, beside me, ignores the chair. In her dogly world, cats, birds, squirrels, or treats matter; sneaky chairs, not so much. I think it’s outdoor furniture, with a thick, comfortable-appearing maroon cushion. But even if designed for all-weather use, I wonder how much moisture it soaks up during the rain. (Yes, the silly dog and I take to the streets in the rain.) Though unable to recall its position when we last hurried by, I’m confident today’s location is different.

It has never been occupied, though someone must be repositioning it along the curve of the driveway. Maybe a tornado could shove it around, but California twisters are rare (and no, we wouldn’t walk in a storm that nasty). The chair has been angled toward the house, or a neighbor’s house, in a multitude of ways. However, the seat is invariably positioned so that if—if—anyone settles onto its cushion, he or she will have a nice view of the street.

I think a retired parent living with busy adult children is a likely suspect. Of course, my imagination could be far from the truth. Still, I can’t imagine the chair is there because the residents have forgotten it or that it’s a bizarre piece of an ever-changing landscape theme.

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Even during the initial stages of his dementia, and well past his eightieth birthday, my father sat on his driveway in a folding lawn chair. He enjoyed watching the world go by. I can’t help but recall Dad’s habits when Kynzi and I hurry along this obscure street in Fresno’s neighborhoods. One of the early troubling confirmations that dementia was stealing his mind came when a neighbor stopped for a brief how-ya-doing chat.

Dad was still alert enough, so Mom later explained, to handle simple conversations. At some point, the neighbor mentioned his need for a ladder.

“Take ours,” Dad apparently said.

Likely observing Dad’s smile and benign expression, the neighbor might’ve replied, “I could pay you for it.”

“No, take it, it’s yours now.”

The ladder was expensive, with fancy hinged joints easily shifted into multiple settings for the chore-obsessed homeowner. Mom solved the mystery of the missing ladder by hunting down the neighbor, and—probably embarrassed—explaining that her husband didn’t mean to give it away.

Dad’s “take the ladder” is a heart-wrenching memory. But I also possess many mundane, lovely recollections of him stationed on the driveway, happily surveying his domain.

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Chairs and sitting and doing “nothing” are for the retired, right? For the elderly and infirm? And yet doesn’t Christian tradition remind us, indeed demand of us, that we rest? That we settle in enough to listen and learn and cease our fury and hurry?

We are called to go forth and makes disciples of the world, but we best not forget that sitting and discerning and wondering and praying and resting have their slow paces and still places.

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Once I visited a church member in her bedroom. Oh no! Scandalous?

Mary—her real name, I politely add—had gone through a serious surgery. For the crucial recovery period, her doctors ordered her to do . . . nothing. Weeks and weeks of nearly nothing. Friends brought her food. Physical therapists helped her safely regain motion and strength. Home health aides assisted with the now complicated “basic needs.” But most days included lengthy stretches of bed-bound boredom.

I showed up, and sat, and did “nothing.” On we talked. On we laughed. On we shared silence. And hey, since pastors work but once a week, my schedule was, er, flexible!

It was a ministry of nothing and everything.

Years later, I reconnected with Mary at a church conference. With a hug and a hint of tears, she thanked me for all those times I sat beside her.

Nowadays, working at a hospice, one of my tasks can be described in the dullest of ways: I call people. I sit at my desk with a long list of names. Everyone on the list is grieving a loved one’s death. Often, I only leave a message. For good and bad and unknown reasons, some hang up on me. Many conversations are brief and uneventful.

I sit. I press numbers on the phone’s keypad. Not every time, but enough of the time, I connect with someone.

Yes, connect. Our talk becomes a form of prayer, with sharing stories and forgiveness and tears. For moments that can’t be counted by clocks or schedules, we experience grace. Anne Lamott was right when she wrote, “I do not understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.” A call ends, and both of us have received gifts and felt inexplicable gratitude.

And yet all I did was sit and listen.

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Kynzi increases her pace. Maybe she spied a neighborhood cat. She also knows, for dogs remember the essentials, that breakfast is served when our walk is over.

I glance back, wondering about future morning jaunts—in sunlight or fog, in summer heat or winter cold—and if I’ll ever meet the person who enjoys the chair on the curved driveway. We could stop and chat. I’d let ‘em pet Kynzi. Maybe he or she will be old and weary or overflowing with vim and vigor.

But someone there knows the value of sitting.

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2 Comments

  1. My “word-smith” brother! I had forgotten the ladder incident! This experience was so painful for Mom…..she told the story more than once in my presence and I always had to put a “no comment ” face on. Daddy’s chair in the driveway is a special memory for me too.

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