You never know when time will become timeless. Today I took a commuter train to New York for a brief, but important meeting. Usually I drive to the city, but fortunately I chose the train this morning. During my return trip Bella settled into the seat next to me and cleared her throat. She began a 47-minute monologue that can only happen with a stranger whose life will touch yours just once.
Bella introduced herself by explaining why she needed to rest her aching foot on the opposite seat beneath the sign forbidding it. And so it was that our conversation was interrupted only twice – each time by the conductor asking her to put her leg down. Both times Bella respectfully countered the conductor's objections, describing how this stretched-out position gave her temporary relief from always-present pain. The conductor and I quickly learned that Bella stands (in this case sits) by her convictions.
Bella and I connected. She spoke with confidence and an indiscernible accent. She's a spunky woman born in Russia who emigrated first to Israel, then to Los Angeles, and now she lives in Manhattan. She explained that today she is commuting to visit her 97 year-old mentor.
The three ex-husbands I learned about will always be faceless, but the stories about them were colorful and lusty. Bella described the tumultuous ending of her last and briefest marriage clasping her hands in prayerful hope that she and Joey would remain civil. Just last month she moved him and his possessions to an apartment one floor below hers. She painted vivid images of her own apartment — decorated according to her artistic eye and the residue of her marriages: husband number 3's preference for the color blue; the uncomfortable leather couch husband number 2 purchased without her input; and the modern lithographs husband number 1 gave her during their courtship.
She commiserated about the challenge in marriage and how romances have the potential to be comets that burst into flame then die out, and why it is that without vigilance, the familiarity of living together shifts so easily from novelty to complacency, curiosity to disdain, respect to impatience, and kindness to stagnation. Bella calculated that without continuing effort, the magic of falling in love lasts only five years. We giggled at her idea of putting an expiration date on relationships. And she bemoaned the investment in creativity it takes to extend that life cycle.
As the train pulled into the station, Bella suggested we exchange business cards, but that never happened. While searching her handbag, her attention was diverted with explanations of: her career goals; the bumps on the road to achieving them; accomplishments she’s proud of; and a recent hiccup with management that’s leading to a lawsuit.
Finally a tall 5'10” Bella stood. Her parting details were thoughts of the future. Yesterday a psychic predicted a new romance. He will be shorter than she and arrive in a surprising way. Her parting words were assurance that she’s done with marriage. In this next relationship she intends to preserve her independence and share life only as long as the magic prevails.
From Bella I heard courage, resourcefulness, resilience, creativity, optimism, fortitude, determination, and acceptance — with a healthy dose of humor at life’s unpredictability.
Then she was gone, and so were the 47 minutes it took to share her story.