neighborhood_crop“Won’t you please come in?”  The woman was impossibly frail, but refused a helping hand from her kneeling position in a bed of spent narcissus.  “If I start taking a hand, I won’t be able to get up by myself.”

“I don’t want to interrupt you,” I apologized, “I’ll just leave this flyer for the school board election coming up.  Please look it over.“

“Nope, come in.  I need the break.”  I followed the woman into her apartment.  She offered me the comfortable chair and sat down opposite me.  Immediately her lap was occupied by an enormous white cat.  As if on cue, a big yellow tabby hopped into mine.  “You’ll have a cup of tea.”  It was an order.  “Turn the flame on under that kettle and tell me what this is all about.”  The tabby was unperturbed when I stood up, flowing off my lap like a yellow waterfall.  With guidance, I found tea cups and tea bags.

I was canvassing.  Going door-to-door to ask voters to write in a candidate for school board.  Write-in victories are about as rare as a tea drinker in Sweden, but our cadre of canvassers had a positive outlook.  My partner and I were assigned to a neighborhood of apartment complexes representing the entire spectrum of Oregon citizenry: subsidized housing for low-income voters; condominiums for the wealthy; and assisted living for the elderly.  We were in a complex of voters between the ages of 70 and 90 years old.  All were single.  All were living alone.  All were hungry for conversation.  During the first 90 minutes of ringing doorbells, we spoke to or left flyers for 60 people.  During the last hour, we spent time with six adults who had experienced the Great Depression, a world war followed by three decades of Vietnam, skirmishes large and small, two terrorist attacks, Homeland Security, Hurricane Katrina, Mitch McConnell, and the Tea Party.  

After a cup of Red Rose – I’ve consumed better tea, but none as gratefully shared – we looked at photos of the grandchildren and petted the cats.  Across the courtyard lived an 83-year-old man with a cubic zirconia earring the size of a blueberry in his left ear.  My knock was greeted with the shout that accompanies severe hearing loss, “THIS BETTER NOT BE JURY DUTY AGAIN.”  It turns out that the gentleman LOVES jury duty, but became annoyed when the lawyers became annoyed after being asked to repeat key testimony several times.  He also wanted us to stay.

Dear readers, go visiting.  Make and share tea.  Pet the cats and look at the grandchildren.  In not so many years, it will be you and me craving the sound of another’s voice and a shared laugh, and looking at another through steam rising from a cradled mug.  Humani-tea.