A Lesson from the Past. Thank You, Mary

2 Apr

I had this customer years and years ago. Her name was Mary. Mary was a breath of fresh air, the customer we wish all of our other customers could be. There was a lot about Mary’s life that I didn’t know, but what I did know was that her bar friends were her family. We were her family and she, in turn, was ours. She was a light and part of that was because she always cared. She asked us how we were and then she listened, she remembered, she followed up. And we listened to her. Which is why I bring her up today, in the midst of this pandemic.

Mary lived here in New York City through the 80s, 90s and beyond and throughout all that time was a mainstay in the LGBTQ movement. My first real understanding of the ways the AIDS crisis ravished the gay community was through the stories Mary told me. One story in particular. She explained to me the fear people felt, the conflicting information that was shared and the lack of desire that companies had to do extensive R&D, all of which was brought about largely due to the anti-gay bigotry that permeated society at the time. And she told me what it was like for a woman who cared for ailing friends at home, who visited them at St Vincent’s and who went to their memorial services. She went to so many memorial services. She told me once, and this is something I will never forget, that when the deaths slowed and she looked back at the previous decade she felt as though a plane had crashed. There were so many people gone.

Today, I just sat back and imagined that: a plane full of people you know, or your friends know, lost over the course of a decade. It has always, thankfully, felt so impossible to me. Until, all of a sudden, now.  A friend of mine said to me earlier today, “This thing just keeps circling closer and closer.” She was right. I got cocky. My friends who had it were experiencing mild cases or were, after weeks of sheltering – and coughing – at home, finally seeing a light at the end of the sickness. It was terrible, they said, but they would be okay. I knew, intellectually, we were only at the beginning of this surge but still I was counting my blessings. Hoping that somehow this scourge would pass me and my friends by, leave us unscathed. I knew, also, that it would, without a doubt, effect us all. It would, in the end, reach all our doorsteps. And it has.

The thing is, and I truly believe this, that when someone we love loses someone they love, we lose someone too. It is our job to protect our loved ones from pain. We can’t always do that, of course, but we can hold some of it for them, we can lighten the load. We can hear the stories they tell and share the tears they shed. We can give them an audience, give their person another place to be remembered. And I think we are going to be doing a lot of that going forward. For a lot of people. And maybe we will need people to do that for us.

My head is all over the place. I feel like my brain has been taking cues from those news alerts my phone has been getting constantly. So much news. So much to digest. So many people to check on. How do we keep track of it all? How do we manage it?

We just manage, I guess. Right? Unless you have some ideas?

I guess before I go I will just say a few quick things. Most of us, even if we get sick, will be okay. Most people will recover. That isn’t a comfort to those who don’t, and it isn’t a comfort to those who lose people. And that is not at all to say that we shouldn’t celebrate the good things that happen, that we shouldn’t enjoy our exciting moments (like the fact that my sister Lucy got accepted to Duke’s NP school for September!). I just can’t stop thinking about Mary and her airplane analogy. I truly never thought there was the potential that I would live through something like that firsthand. Yet here I am. Here we all are. And although Mary isn’t here for me to sit and talk to like I did so many times in the past, the fact that she taught me that lesson, that she took strength and perseverance from her experiences, and that she continued on with open arms and an open heart gives me hope. So I am holding on to that as tightly as I can.


If you are enjoying my writing, and since a lot of the cafes are currently closed, consider buying me a coffee on ko-fi! It only costs $3 (or a multiple of 3 if you’re feeling frisky!) and would make my house-bound, under-socialized heart sing. To those of you who caffeinated me, I send you so much gratitude. And I send gratitude to all of you who took the time to read this piece and helped me hold some of these thoughts. 

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