The Red Queen
She sat in a traditional wing-back chair, body quiet and gracefully composed, a blaze of red. Vibrant red, brilliant red, expensive red. Her slacks -- creases crisp, hems pristine -- perfectly matched an equally vibrant red turtleneck sweater. It caught my attention, the way the reds matched. It’s not easy to match reds.
Clearly designed to go together, I noted to myself absently, as my eyes shifted from sweater to slacks to sweater to slacks. In the midst of my restless visual investigation, I stopped, struck by her face. Classic, refined Grecian features. Large luminous brown eyes. And skin -- flawless, porcelain. I assessed her face now as carefully as I had assessed her expensive outfit and few-but-carefully-chosen pieces of jewelry. No surprise that the red lipstick was not cheap-looking and garish on her but rather deep and rich instead.
How can you be that old and not have wrinkles? I wondered. Face lift? Chemical peel? A combo? But neither or both could explain the beautiful face before me.
Her long, thick hair, snowy white, was piled atop her head. She looked, I thought, like a queen. A queen in red.
I will have to tell her, I thought, tell her how remarkably beautiful she is.
She was looking at me now, undisturbed, poised, her delicate eyebrows slightly lifted, her eyes politely inquiring.
I stammered through my introduction. Internship...volunteer ombudsman program...meet you...anything you need...and just as I was about to tell her how beautiful she was, she said,
“Your hair is lovely, dear.”
I returned to the stammering, thanking her, thinking, Drats. I can’t tell her NOW that’s she’s beautiful -- it’ll seem fake, like I’m complimenting her for complimenting me.
“Do they still call that auburn?” The queen interrupted my thoughts.
I answered that I thought they did and then felt compelled to confess that my hairdresser added highlights to give the color “a little lift.”
“It’s lovely, dear. Very becoming. She’s getting it just right.” the queen replied.
I sat down, and the queen and I talked about the upcoming election (she had been watching the news when I arrived). I marveled at her measured tones, the graceful way she lifted her hands. She was just...enchanting.
After a bit, it was time for me to go. There were other residents to meet and offer my humble ombudsman services to. On impulse, I took her hand and told her, earnestly, sincerely, that I enjoyed talking with her, and that I would look for her the next time I visited the facility.
The queen retained my hand and said,
“Well, dear, I should tell you that I have Alzheimer’s, and the next time you come, I might not remember you. But I’ll try very hard.”
She held my gaze, intent, focused, aware. And Time Stood Still.
I couldn’t even stammer. Nothing in ombudsman training prepared me for this. Oh, sure, we had training sessions on dementia, but nothing to prepare me for a sacred moment in time when a queen in red holds your gaze, and tells you regally that she is fully aware, fully present in the moment, but aware too that the moment may be forever lost to her, that she may never remember that it was so. Nothing to prepare me for the intensity of being present in an awareness that full, an understanding that deep.
The queen’s last words hung in the air about us, words uttered like a promise:
“But I’ll try very hard.”
It was the promise to try very hard that made my heart lurch and spurred me on to say something -- anything. My training failing me, I turned to what we all turn to in these moments, I turned to my Soul’s Best Instincts.
I once read that those of us who have very little “human” patience can always tap into the Divine Kind, which is always available and without limit. Thinking of that kind of Patience I said -- and this time I did NOT stammer --
“Well, I will tell you something. I’m a Patient person. I will remember. And if we have to re-meet each other every time I come, that’s fine with me. I won’t mind a bit.”
Silence hung between us again while she searched my face.
She smiled then, as she gently released my hand, and the smile was radiant. Like the sun.
I’ve seen the queen countless times since then. Gliding down the hall in black, white hair tumbling down her back, peeking in to see the resident hairdresser (what time is my appointment, dear?), I’ve seen her dancing in green in the community room (she was a dancer you know, the ladies whisper, quite good they say), I’ve seen her in lavender, waiting near a window for her son (such a good boy, he takes care of all my affairs) and on the porch in yellow having tea with “the girls,” remarking, “This is a lovely day. The best day since I’ve been here.”
I’ve learned that the queen is “just fine” with Mr. Obama as the president, that husband no. 1 was a good man but drank too much and drove off a bridge, that husband no. 2 struck oil, and that she would have shot daddy herself for what he did to mama if only she’d had a gun...
The queen does not remember me, although she receives me with poise and grace every time. And I look into her eyes and hold alive in my heart the day I saw A Queen in Red.
I hold alive that moment, that moment of acute awareness, that moment when understanding flowed between us and enveloped us, when the shared Awareness was so acute it was almost uncomfortable. I hold it alive because it was holy, I hold it alive because we promised, both of us promised. We promised to try very hard.
I wonder... What if?
What if we’re here on this earth to hold alive in our hearts and in our minds WHO and WHAT our brothers and sisters really ARE?
Hold it alive even when they have forgotten?
Hold it alive When they are unkind When they are heartbroken Despondent Discouraged Filled with rage
What if we tried…really hard…to remember who we ALL really are, and from whence we come…
What would that world look like?