Anna stared out the window at the snow falling, wearing a nightgown she’d had on for three days.
On the kitchen counter, next to a sink full of unwashed dishes sat a plate with a half-eaten piece of toast smeared with peanut butter, a piece of banana and a half cup of yogurt.
There seemed to be no reason to finish the food that could hardly be classified as a meal.
In fact, she was beginning to wonder if there was a reason to finish anything. Or get dressed. Of course, eventually, she would run out of groceries. But, with snow on the ground and the wind howling, who could even think about going to the grocery store?
She started to wonder why she got out of bed.
She did some mental calculations and figured she had spent 15 of the last 24 hours in bed.
There just wasn’t any compelling reason to get up.
The snow had stopped.
The only thing that penetrated the blanket of quiet was the scrape of an occasional snow plow on the road.
Anna hadn’t shoveled the driveway or the walk. There was no need. She had enough food to last two weeks or longer.
The house was warm. Her bills were paid. There was no one to meet for lunch.
She hadn’t realized during the seventeen years she cared for her mother that her best friends were the nurses. They had become her lifeline to the outside world. Now that her mother was gone, the nurses were, too.
Along with her reason for living.
She hadn’t dressed for three days. Why bother?
What if I didn’t wake up tomorrow? Who would know? Who would care? How long would it take for anyone to notice?
Maybe this was it.
The end of the line.
It wasn’t a terrible thought.
She wondered if she had enough pills in her medicine cabinet to do the job.
After all, she felt confident she had a heavenly home waiting for her.
It had been decades since she attended church, but she and God were on good terms. She’d never had a problem with God. It was just his followers that she couldn’t abide.
Nevertheless, as a creature of habit every morning she read a chapter from Proverbs (that corresponded to the day of the month) and she recited a prayer from the Common Book of Prayer.
She felt sure God would reward her faithfulness.
So, dying wasn’t a problem.
It was living that she couldn’t handle.
In the four months since her mother died, Anna’s life spun in slower and slower circles until it came to a grinding halt.
For most of seventeen years, her energy and attention had been focused on caring for her mother.
When they originally moved to Kansas to care for her mother, Ralph had taken early retirement.
In the beginning, he had helped, too. But, for the the past eight and half years, she carried the weight alone.
Mother was lucid and cheerful almost to the very end. That helped.
And the nurses were kind and chatty. She missed their voices now. The house was so silent.
The commercials on TV were driving her up the wall. She couldn’t stand to have it on any more.
She used to love to read, and her mother’s house was filled with books, but she couldn’t concentrate for more than a page or two before her mind wandered off.
She used to love to bake: cookies, bread, pies, and cinnamon rolls. But, what was the point now? There was no one to eat it. She couldn’t finish a slice of toast spread with peanut butter before her apetite deserted her.
She watched the darkness creep over the Kansas country side and thought about going to bed.
But the thought of waking up to one more purposeless day was too much.
She sat in the dark and felt the silent tears drip from her chin.
And she whispered a prayer, “God help me. I can’t take it anymore.”
She woke up with a list in her head.
It was a short list.
She used to be a crazy list maker. Back when there was too much to do and life was noisy.
This list only had three things on it.
She got up, found a spiral notebook and wrote down:
1) Shower and dress.
2) Get the mail.
3) Make dinner.
She felt better.
Two out of three wasn’t bad.
She crossed number one and three off the list: shower and dress and make dinner.
Dinner consisted of a hamburger and a salad. Not a feast, but better than toast, bananas and yogurt.
The only thing left was to get the mail.
As simple as her list had been and as easy as the tasks had been, she felt an enormous sense of accomplishment to have completed two thirds of her list.
Maybe she would wait till tomorrow to get the mail.
But that line that wasn’t crossed off haunted her.
Even though it had stopped snowing, she had no inclination to shovel the walk or the driveway. She would wade through the snow to the mailbox.
She dug out her boots and hat and scarf and heavy coat and trudged through the unblemished snow.
Inside she peeled off her extra garments and sat down to sift through the stack.
It was almost always a fool’s errand. The mail was full of advertisements sprinkled with an ocassional bill.
But today was different.
There was a letter from Ana.
She said she had seven grandchildren, and had lost one. She had been retired in Florida for 12 years. She lost Bill two years ago and was still struggling to cope.
She had recently re-read The Hiding Place and it strangely gave her hope that she could endure her present reality.
Anna stopped reading and looked over at her mother’s bookshelves. She thought she remembered seeing a book called the The Hiding Place.
Yes, there it was.
She pulled it out and started reading.
She could use some hope, too.
Before she realized it, the room was getting dark.
That night, lying in bed, she thought about Betsy and Corrie in the concentration camp being thankful for the fleas.
Amazing. When they were in such horrific circumstances.
She decided in the morning she would start a list of everything she was grateful for.
And she would make another to do list with four things on it.
There was a lot to be grateful for.
The house her mother left her was paid for, free and clear. Her husband’s pension and retirement funds were more than adequate to meet her needs, as long as she stayed healthy.
That was another thing. She had good health for 72. Except for some arthritis pain in her fingers and toes, her health was good. At least as far as she knew. It has been years since she had been to the doctor.
Her mother had died peacefully in her sleep. That was something to be thankful for.
She just had the house re-roofed last summer.
She had Ana. One friend who cared enough to write a hand-written letter.
She had enough food to last two weeks. Surely the snow would melt by then. If not, she could shovel. Or spread salt. Why hadn’t she thought of that sooner? Surely there was some ice melt salt in the garage.
She lived in a beautiful place.
At least, it had some beauty.
The land was flat, but it posessed some charm.
The barn was the only eyesore on the property: a two-story barn in poor condition that hadn’t been used for more than twenty years.
But, the cost to tear it down couldn’t be justified in an effort for a better view.
She started a letter to Ana.
She was beginning to believe her life could be different. That she could re-write the ending to her story. It wasn’t over. Not yet.
They were known around school as the two Annas. Ana Barry and Anna Jones. People started calling Anna Jones “AJ”to distinguish them. They had most of their classes together, plus they were roommates and siamese twins when school was out.
They had an easy friendship that found the same things funny. That could talk for hours without realizing any time had passed. That daydreamed and built castles in the air for a rosy future.
They would marry brothers and live next door to each other and watch each other’s kids and make movies that the whole world would watch.
They would learn how to sail and take a trip around the world, sampling exotic food at every port.
They would penetrate an unreached people group and live in huts and fly little planes that landed on the water and start a church growth movement.
Anything was possible. The world was their oyster.
Ana’s letter echoed in her head.
“Believe that you can change your life. Believe that you can create a new ending to your story. You can change the trajectory of your life. Even at 72. It’s not too late.”
Did she believe that?
Could she really create a new life for herself? Here? Where she had no family and no friends to speak of?
What possibilities were there for her? Where would she even start?
She did know something had to change. She couldn’t go on like this.
She thought about her prayer of desperation.
She thought about how she woke with a list in her head. On that list was get the mail.
Ana’s letter had been there, waiting for her.
She slipped into a back row, grateful the service had started. She would leave during the last few minutes and avoid any conversation. Interacting with people was not was she was here for.
The songs were unfamiliar. There was a lot of standing and sitting.
The pastor laughed and joked through the transitions in the show.
It was hard to focus on the message. Her mind wandered. But, occasionally the word “hope” drifted in and she thought about that. Hope. Just what she needed.
If it wasn’t too late.
She slipped out during the final prayer.
She might come back again. She might not.
The digital revolution had passed her by. She had no internet. The ancient computer on the desk in the corner wouldn’t even boot up any more. She couldn’t remember when that happened.
There was always doctor’s appointments and medicine, so much medicine to organize. And the special diet, and occasional stints in the hospital and nursing home.
Survival– keeping her head above water was a way of life. There was no energy for learning technology. There was no one to hand hold her way through the murky waters. So she didn’t learn and was left behind.
Now Ana was talking about Facebook and Skype. She didn’t know where to start.
Ralph had always bought their computers. He knew what he was looking for. He understood memory and RAM and hard drives. She was lost.
Another letter from Ana.
Short and to the point.
“I have a huge favor to ask, if you would be so kind.”