Dania’s Bench

It was 7 a.m. when I stepped out onto my balcony to look at the sunrise. It is one of my favorite views and has been for almost 20 years. I call the balcony my Treehouse, because it is secluded, overlooks a trail, field and stream, is abundant with wildlife, and in the warm months, wildflowers and a garden. I greedily take in the aromas, sights and sounds — I need them more than coffee or breakfast and cannot imagine starting my day without them. And no matter how I feel or what lies ahead, I am soothed by the magic of the view.

But something was different this morning. I wondered…was it my aging eyes, compromised further by my recent stroke? No. It wasn’t blurred vision, near or farsightedness. It was the feeling about what I saw. Hard to describe. Melancholy mingled with pleasure. Sadness mixed with distant laughter.

It was a memory. Unexpected. Not the kind you have when you pull out old photo albums or boxes filled with pictures. Not the kind you get when you share your digital photos with family or friends and reminisce. It was a heartbeat, a pang, a shortness of breath. It was startling.

I moved closer to the balcony’s edge, looking intently at the bench that sits under an old oak tree at the far side of the garden. DANIA’S BENCH. And I remembered.

Dania was my neighbor and friend for 15 years. She died four years ago — a lingering illness that daily robbed her of all physical abilities, but never her essence.

Dania was 6 feet tall. A big woman. Her white blonde hair always looked windblown. Her blue eyes were the color of the ocean on its best day. She literally walked softly and carried a big stick — a beautiful, intricately carved hickory walking stick in her hand. She could hike the trails for miles, accompanied by her 3 beloved huskies, and wearing old, worn sandals. Once you saw her, you never forgot her.

Some people were uncomfortable in Dania’s presence. She was opinionated and outspoken, but her voice was so soft you had to lean in to hear her. A devoted practitioner of Tai Chi, and an herbalist, she was also an M.D. who spent most of her career working with Doctors Without Borders and Amnesty International. She witnessed terrible things: her passion for social justice unwavering; her compassion boundless.

As Dania’s illness progressed her hikes became easy walks. It did not matter. She knew and loved every plant and animal that could be observed from the trail behind our apartments, and she taught me about them. We walked together, binoculars strung around our necks, whispering so as not to disturb anything. The distances grew shorter, but somehow, the perspective expanded.

When she grew tired, her breath labored, we sat on the bench she had placed in the garden under the ancient oak tree and talked. The bench was made of concrete and weighed several hundred pounds… “meant to last long after I’m gone,” she said. It took three men to move it and place it exactly where she wanted it!  She loved the thought of people walking the trail and taking a few minutes to sit on the bench, listening and watching more than talking. I learned about silence sitting on that bench with her. I also learned about life, love, religion, dying and of course, Nature.

Two days before she died, Dania called me from hospice. “There are 3 20-pound bags of birdseed in the back of my pickup. I’m going to ask my friend Al to get in touch with you and deliver them. He can put them in your storage shed. I want you to feed the birds as you always do but think of me when you fill the feeders. I will be with you. Make sure you take time to sit on the bench, Carole.”

I looked at Dania’s Bench that morning, four years after her passing, as I do almost every morning. The view had changed. It was still beautiful. But different.

I think that growing older, dealing with my illness and the death and sickness of friends, has forced me to look at things in a new way. There is an urgency that comes with the knowledge that time is running out. I don’t want to miss the slightest detail. I want to memorize colors, shapes, and the uniqueness of everything that I see. I learned that it does not have to be a faraway location, spectacular landmark, or even a particular person to be memorable.. It can be something as simple as a bench in a garden. I want to appreciate every scene, fine-tuned by my mind’s eye, turn it into a photograph, and store it not in an album or on my phone, but in my heart.

And if I should see Dania again in some afterlife, or just talk to her before my time ends, I want to be able to tell her that I sat on her bench, silently watching and listening. And that I did not miss any of the view.

COME SIT WITH ME

In the shade of the tree

On DANIA’S BENCH

IN THE GARDEN.

We can talk for a while,

Share a laugh and a smile

As we see the cats play

Or just laze away

Under DANIA’S BENCH

IN THE GARDEN.

We can watch birds feed.

They have all that they need.

So songs they will sing

And joy they will bring

To DANIA’S BENCH

IN THE GARDEN.

We can watch butterflies

As they pass gently by

To their favorite flowers

Where they spend many hours

Near DANIA’S BENCH

IN THE GARDEN.

We can hear sounds of the stream

And watch the sunbeams

As they dance in the light

Oh! What a delight!

Behind DANIA’S BENCH

IN THE GARDEN.

We can forget about pain,

Stop worries in vain.

If just for a time

Won’t it be sublime!

So COME SIT WITH ME

In the shade of the tree

ON DANIA’S BENCH

IN THE GARDEN.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Carole Leskin
Carole Leskin is a retired Director of Global Human Resources. Embarking on a second career as a writer and photographer concentrating on her personal accounts of aging, her essays and poetry, frequently accompanied by her photos, are published regularly on JewishSacredAging.com and Starts At 60 and recently, in Time Goes By. Her poem, "Father Time," was selected for inclusion in the 2019 anthology of poetry, New Jersey Bards. She is the founder of the blog YBAlone, which focuses on the challenges of growing older, especially for those who live alone with no family or support system, an issue which impacts her personally.

6 Comments

  1. I would so love to sit with you on Dania’s bench. Thank you for introducing her to us!

  2. Roberta Kalmanson July 18, 2019 at 12:39 pm

    That’s absolutely beautiful..thank for sharing your thoughts.

  3. This beautiful article and poem really touched my heart. You are an exceptionally talented writer.

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