Haunting Conversations

I moved away from Minneapolis to live in Boston and DC from 1989-2004, and then moved back.  One thing I love about being back where I spent my young adult years is when I run into people I knew from the 1980’s.


Recently, I ran into a woman who looked dimly familiar.  When I heard someone else call her Jean, I realized why and I asked, “Are you … Jean X…?’  Yes, she answered.


I said, “I think you took over the end of my lease in my apartment in a fourplex on 16th Street, back in 1982.  It was a sweet little tiny apartment.”  Yep, she indicated, that was correct.


“How long did you stay?” I asked.  She answered, as I expected, “Oh, a couple of years.”  Then , to my shock, she went on, “After that I moved upstairs and I’ve been there ever since.”  I must have looked surprised, because she said, “I know it’s a small apartment, but I never got into the job, house, car thing.  I bike where I need to go, work enough odd jobs to pay the rent, and mostly spend my time outside.”  She nodded to the beautifully cared for community garden, where we stood, and I could see that she spent a great deal of time there, indeed!


This conversation has gone through my head a dozen times since we had it.  This woman was still living exactly the way that I, and everyone I knew, lived in 1982!  Before we got into the kid thing, before we got into the graduate school thing, before we got into the job, house, car thing.


It made me think of that Sufi story about the old fool, Mullah Nasrudin.  As is often the case, Nasrudin is talking to someone much more prominent, successful, well-dressed, and self-important.
The rich man looks at Nasrudin’s house, shakes his head, and says, “You know, Nasrudin, if you could just get a job like mine then you wouldn’t have to live in this small shack and live on rice and beans!”


And Nasrudin looks back at him and says, “If you could just enjoy rice and beans and a simple shack, you wouldn’t have to work at a job like yours!”
Running into Jean made me think about these past 30 years.  Am I happy about the changes I’ve made?  Has the house, job, car thing worked for me?


Jean’s health and joy was apparent.  Unlike most people I know, I’ll bet she does not wake up stressed about how to accomplish the day’s list.  Is she living more the way humans are supposed to live?


I don’t know, and I won’t have time to think about it very long, for today anyway.  I’ve got a house to clean, errands to run, a job to do!  But our conversation keeps reinserting itself as I rush about, and I find myself planning rice and beans for supper.




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