Tuesdays With Vicky: the Joy of Giving and Receiving
‘How about today, shall we smoke?’ The diminutive* pensioner sitting opposite me lifts two fingers to her mouth; they are holding an invisible cigarette.
‘Sure, Vicky. Why not,’ I reply, and she is visibly delighted.
She is not actually talking about smoking, but sharing some ricotta cigars—cylindrical pastries that are filled with cheese and jam, fried, coated liberally in orange blossom syrup and then sprinkled with crushed pistachios—a specialty of the Lebanese bakery we meet at weekly.
Vicky and I have been catching up over coffee and sweets for four or five years now. She’s twice my age, was born and raised a world away in northern Russia, enjoyed a career lecturing at a Moscow college and has a barrel-load of fascinating (occasionally horrifying) stories about life in the former USSR.
On occasion Vicky regales me with such tales, but mostly she wants to share the everyday trials and tribulations of her life. She laments the fact that her grandchildren are growing up fast and no longer look at her with the same adoration as when they were tots. She seeks my commiseration when she discovers a new wrinkle. She confesses the teenage crushes she still holds in her heart. She reads me the sonnets of great Russian poets, though without fail insists that the English translation is far inferior. Whenever she remembers her mother, her eyes well with tears.
We originally met through a community centre that provides English As a Second Language (ESL) training for local migrants; I was there in a volunteer capacity, as her conversation tutor. But she’s no longer my ‘student’ and we no longer use the room at the community centre. She’s become my friend and confidante, the Russian Jewish grandmother I never had, another soul sister in my inner circle of loved ones.
Vicky celebrated her birthday this week (I won’t tell you her exact age or she’d probably kill me), and I brought her a present—a warm winter scarf and a bag of dark chocolate-coated almonds and coffee beans (a combination of some of her favourite things). She opened her gift, hugged me and said, ‘My dear, you are not just the highlight of my day, but of my life. Fate has brought me many hardships, but always enough things to lift me up too, so I do not become too depressed. And I think in that, you are in first position.’
The feeling is mutual. I started out with Vicky as a volunteer, thinking of what I had to give. But I have received something precious in return: a true heart-friend.
Despite our markedly different cultural backgrounds and life experiences, on Tuesday mornings (or sometimes Wednesdays, if my work schedule dictates), when we settle in for a cuppa we are thick as thieves. I still fulfil a role in helping her improve her language skills, for although she can communicate fluently she strives to express herself more eloquently; for instance, when she recently wanted to say ‘he looked at him with disdain’ I helped her find the right word. But most of all, the value of our meeting is the joy of giving and receiving, knowing somebody shares in, and cares about, our troubles and our happiness.
So today’s post is dedicated to my friend Vicky, who reminds me that by sharing small kindnesses we can make a big difference in each other’s lives.
With love and friendship, Narissa
*edit: Vicky would like it known that while she may be diminutive in stature, she is certainly not so in character. To that I can definitely attest, and have offered my apologies if a poor choice of wording implied otherwise!
Narissa Doumani, author of A Spacious Life: Memoir of a Meditator
live mindfully ~ love openly
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