Cora often called to chat, so it wasn’t any big deal when I heard her voice on the phone in March. I was driving to work and we chatted for about five minutes. She reminded me that she wanted to take me out to dinner sometime.
As she was about to hang up, Cora said, “I love you. You’re such a good neighbor!” And I told her that I loved her, too.
Cora has been my neighbor for a bit more than five years. She’s a feisty and strong-willed black lady in her 70s who was a high school English teacher before she retired.
She’s always pestered me to find out about any women in my life. When she’s seen a woman at my house, she always wanted to know whether this is “the one,” and she was always disappointed when I told her otherwise. As she was about to leave my porch one time in May, she looked at me very seriously.
“I’m going to find a good-looking white girl for you,” she said. “I know a lot of rich and powerful white people, you know.”
She’s always seemed determined to find “a white girl” for me. But I found out tonight that this is very unlikely to ever happen. In fact, it’s unlikely I‘ll ever talk to Cora again.
About six or eight months ago, Cora had some sort of episode — we never knew what happened — that caused her to go walking through the neighborhood and then stop at a house of someone she didn’t know.
She had walked into the house of these strangers and had been very confused about where she was and how she had gotten there. She was in a hospital for a week or so after that. By the time she returned home, she was mostly back to normal.
In the coming weeks, she seemed to be doing better. She was tired and she wasn’t as physically active, but her mind was sharp.
Roughly two months ago, she felt good enough to take another trip — she traveled constantly to see family and friends — so she went to Texas for a visit. By the time she got back, something was wrong. Doctors suspect she had a couple of “mini-strokes” while on her trip. While she was in the hospital, she had a full-blown stroke.
I didn’t know about any of that until one of her daughters called to fill me in on it. She told me Cora was about to come back home, but because of the virus scare right now, we decided it would be best if I didn’t come see her.
Once she was better, things would return to normal. Or so we thought.
One of her sons brought me up to date about an hour ago. He was at her house cutting the grass and he stopped to give me the news when I got home.
Cora isn’t herself anymore and doctors doubt she ever will be. She doesn’t talk coherently now. She doesn’t seem to recognize her children. She requires full-time care and she has a feeding tube.
Three days ago — while I was at work — an ambulance took Cora away, but I didn’t know it. For now, she’s living about four hours from here — with one of her sons — in Mobile, Ala. Her son was talking to me tonight about the possibility of selling her house. Although they hope something might change, nobody expects her to ever live alone again.
They don’t believe there’s any chance Cora will ever return to the little house across the street.
As her son told me all this, I felt bad for Cora and I felt bad for what her eight children are going through. But I also felt a little stab in my heart for what this felt like for me.
I kept thinking about the fact that Cora and I had talked for close to two years about going out together sometime. We had settled on going to Cracker Barrel on a Sunday afternoon. She wanted it to be a Sunday because she would still be dressed up after church.
Several times we made plans about when we were going to go, but something always got in the way. She was more active in trying to pin a date down than I was. I wasn’t avoiding it, but I just never got around to firming something up.
The timing didn’t seem to matter. We could do it any time.
I’ll probably never get to go out with Cora now, and I bitterly regret that I wasn’t more diligent in making sure it happened. It was something I wanted to do, but I could always do it next week. Or the week after. Or next month. Or after this virus scare dies down.
And now I’ve waited too late.
Time is going to run out for every single one of us. It never feels that way. In fact, we live as though we we’ll be here for eternity.
We act as though we have forever to do the things we want to do. We live as though we have forever to love in the ways we say we want to. We seem to believe there’s always tomorrow to do the things that matter.
And as I look at Cora’s dark and empty house tonight, I’m faced with the reality that we don’t always have tomorrow.
We need to love the people we want to love. Right now. Not next month. Not next year. We need to love. We need to do the things that matter to us.
That’s not just advice for other people. That’s not just for older people. That’s for you and me, too.
Because before we know it, time is going to run out for us, too.