Of all Dicken’s memorable characters, there’s one who’s been in my mind this week. She’s the lugubrious Mrs. Gummidge, the widow in “David Copperfield,” who constantly complains she’s a “lone lorn creetur’.” She reminds me of some people I know who wallow in misery. (She also reminds me I have to be careful not to do that wallowing myself! ) If “misery loves company,” it more often drives everyone away, for self-pity can be contagious.
I was reminded of the opposite when I visited a nursing home last week, to see a friend who’d recently been moved there. For an hour or so we talked about inconsequential things. I was edgy about the time, because I needed to be home writing. There was to be a concert at 3:00 and I planned to leave before it. However, my friend asked me to keep him company . Regretting my “lost” writing time, I agreed to stay.
We walked into the large room where the concert was to be held. “Maybe it’s been cancelled,”I told my friend, for no chairs had been set up. Moments later I realized my ludicrous mistake: people started arriving via their own seats – wheelchairs! There were also a number of patients unable to even sit up, lying on what looked like stretchers on wheels. Looking around at these elderly frail people I thought, what a sad audience to play to.
The concert actually consisted of one man, a singer calling for requested songs. There were Sinatra favorites, a Caribbean dance tune, and of course “New York, New York.” Many in the audience sang along in an off-key chorus.
“One last request,” the MC announced, looking in my direction.There was a song I wanted but I thought, it’s too sentimental. Yet I made myself call out , “Do you know Que Sera, Sera?” To my surprise the Mc said he “loves” that song.”C’mon follks,” he shouted. ”Do you all know the words?”
He began to sing – and as swiftly as a wave rolling onto the beach – an enthusiastic chorus swelled with him. Que sera….whatever will be will be…the future’s not ours to see…
Looking around I was stunned at the joy surrounding me – these frail men and women for whom “future” has a very limited horizon, singing so hopefully.
When I heard that song years ago I was pregnant with my first child and “future” was a golden promise. Decades later, I find much less to look forward to. Yet, the inmates of this nursing home, with even less to be hopeful about, were celebrating life.
It made me realize that we can each choose to be “lone” and “lorn” – or to find some measure of happiness that doesn’t depend on the script we’ve been handed.
Dickens must have known that. For in the second half of his novel, Mrs. Gummidge – though in no happier circumstances than before – discards her self-pity and becomes a cheerful woman who helps others.
That contrast is a good writing lesson : characters shouldn’t be one strand, but many And my “lost” afternoon in the nursing home was a lesson that sometimes inspiration is no further away than the strangers around us.
BOOKS: “Widow’s Walk” – available through iUniverse.com; “Turning Toward Tomorrow” xLibris.com; “Ten Women of Valor” and “Role Play” – CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com. Also Amazon Kindle.