Ann was my blind roommate. Not blind. Just set-up. You know, like a blind date. I think I might have met her once, for about a minute in some cafeteria in Upper State New York a summer before, but that story is for another time. Other than that, I’m sure we were complete strangers. Her sister Barbara was a friend of mine (still is!). I’d been to Barb’s apartment before and remember thinking ‘wow, how amazing to live in such a nice place’. It was a second story flat set back off the street, above a shaded grassy patch and home to a large tree or two (ok, I’m not a details person). The apartment was just across the street from the Walla Walla College campus where I attended. If you could have seen the apartment I was “wow-ing’, you’d chuckle, but for a college kid who had lived in some motley places, you’d understand. One spring day while I was visiting Barb at her apartment she asked me if I’d like to live there, and room with her sister Ann the following year. Barb was leaving/graduating, and Ann needed a roommate. Barbara was one of those people super easy to be around – and I imagined her sister to be the same, so took the chance and said I’d do it. With no small amount of anxiety, I agreed, knowing sisters can be as different as night and day.
What I don’t think I told Barbara was that I was holding my breath – hoping everything would work out. Not just regarding Ann, but due to my own situation. Although I wanted to live in a normal apartment with a pre-arranged roommate, and make plans for the year ahead, my actual life never looked like that. Every quarter I’d find myself sitting in the financial aid office an hour or two waiting my turn, hoping and praying that Cassie or Doug – the two persons managing the financial aid office – would pull out of a hat some random grant or loan, making it possible for me to attend college yet one more Quarter. Every nickel I made working on grounds, vacuuming the halls of the girls dorm, and all other income went to paying for college. I didn’t make enough to afford it, so every Quarter they let me in felt like a giant miracle from God. Housing and roommates came last.
Over the summer, I remember looking at my things, a few ratty Norman Rockwell pictures torn out of a calendar for the walls, some black-bottomed pans, a thinned cotton bedspread but white and cheerful enough, no dresser but a mattress for the floor, … I wondered how Barbara’s sister would feel about moving in with Miss Nobody.
For no particular reason Cassy or Doug, I don’t remember which, decided they had the money for me to attend, and that I’d be fine in that nice apartment, and so there I was unpacking my few well worn things when Ann arrived. I don’t remember our first words, or even remember when she arrived, but one of the first sweet things she said to me was exclaiming how much she loved the (thumbtacked) Norman Rockwell pictures on the wall. I couldn’t believe it. She could enjoy simple unconventional ways of decorating, of being, and could find beauty all over the place in things that didn’t cost a dime. The relief nearly suffocated me. To be accepted is one thing, but to be enjoyed as is, now that’s another.
The blind roommate turned out to be a very good one. Not only did she not care one bit about my worn out things, she enjoyed my ability to make something out of nothing in the kitchen. I enjoyed her ability to read a recipe and bake. She was adventurous, was willing to do crazy things like camp out last minute on some country church grounds (because it sat beside a river). I think the sprinklers came on, and she was a good sport about that too.
Ann loved having friends over, and was quite the host. Because of her, our apartment was filled to overflowing with friends and friends of friends and a few others. Engineering guys from across the street would smell the chili in the crock pot and meander across the road, up the stairs to see what’s cooking. Students whose parents had been missionaries – Ann had grown up in Bangladesh. Her former classmates from a college in England she’d attended. Ole friends from Blue Mountain Academy in Pennsylvania. I added my collection of grounds worker pals, class mates, a few friends from Mount Ellis (Bozeman, Montana)…. Between the two of us, our apartment was a preverbal zoo!
Ann was an unusual mix of fun and studious. I struggled with college, good grades did not come easy for me. I had to read and re-read anything I took in. I had already decided that I couldn’t have fun and do well in college at the same time. This was due to that fact that the students I’d known up to this point were either fun or or did well in school, but never both. Not Ann. She knew how to shift gears from fun times to getting things done, and back to fun again – as needed. I was inspired. Ann did need less sleep then I, but she was always respectful about her sleepyhead roommate and studied late into the night without disturbing my rest. Ann was also more tidy than I, and was just gracious as I struggled to keep things up, as we had to – we had company morning to night.
The year I met my husband and fell in love, I was rooming with Ann. She listen to all my star eye’d feelings months on end. We listened to each other. She was gracious when the guy I was in love with reciprocated. Didn’t matter what the challenge in life was, when things were going well for me, and not for her, she was gracious. That’s a great word for Ann. Gracious. Just a gracious and dear friend.
Thirty some years have passed. Ann is more dear to me then before. She has been the best auntie to our kids, though not a blood aunt. She’s been in our lives a couple times a year their entire lives. Although she eventually moved to Cambodia, she flies in to see her folks, sisters and brother and comes to see us – and often. Which means the kids have years of memories with Auntie Ann.
I would have never picked Ann out myself. We are as optimist as two persons can be. She has traveled all over the world her entire life. I’ve been nowhere other than the US, Canada, Hawaii and Tijuana, but mostly stay home. Book learning comes easy to her. She flies through books and tests well. I struggle to get through part of a book. I test poorly. She likes numbers. I like words. Not true. She likes words too… and reads more books in a year than I will in a lifetime. She bakes. I dump cook. She is single. I’m married with four kid. She is a saver. I’m a squanderer. She reads music. I play by ear. She’s Adventist. I’m not.
How does one choose a roommate? Although Ann and I are as as different as wind and sea, the things that matter most we have in common. Ann gets how much I love God, how much I hate pretension, how much I value simple hospitality, how much I love vulnerability and authenticity. We both love to grow our spirits and shrink the ever-toxic “self”. We both love family and friends, love something from nothing, both love learning and exploring new ideas, love color, love to laugh, love a spontaneous adventure. I have a memory of one of my very grown up kids being talked into a shopping cart by Auntie Ann, her pushing said child speed of light through a parking lot, both howling with laughter.
My blind roommate. I think I was the blind one. Would never have thought she’d consider a friendship with me as she was traveled, smart and capable. You know, I’ve never seen my face, and you haven’t seen yours. Only a reflection. If the reflectant is warped, all that is seen is a twisted view of ourselves. That makes each-other that very important mirror. Ann has been one of the kindest mirrors I’ve ever looked into. A mirror that smiles at my burnt attempts at soup. Listens when I’m miserable and self-centered. Is able to separate her own opinions from her heart – a heart that cares for me more than cares to be right or have the last word.
The wind and sea.
Which one are you?
Which one is me?
My blind roommate.
A kindly mirror.
Thank you gracious friend