Every so often, you meet a person who radiates goodness, reminding you of all the positive traits of human beings.
They aren’t perfect, but who is? But being around them is very good for the soul, reinforcing the notion that genuine kindness and good humor are still possible in this very crazy world.
Barbara Paight is one of these people. We first met about 30 years ago at my first job at a small daily newspaper, and reconnected two years ago when we attended the Women’s March on Washington with the Connecticut chapter of the National Organization of Women.
At a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike, I warned Barbara that I was alone and would be joining her and her pal Dom for a day in D.C. whether they wanted me or not. Barbara was very gracious, welcoming me with open arms and allowing me to tag along as we explored the city’s monuments and tourist attractions after the march.
What I remember most about that day was laughing and a sense of giddiness about almost everything, including buying colorful beaded bracelets from a monk near the Washington Monument. There wasn’t anything particularly funny about anything we were doing, but the mood was light and uplifting, mainly because of Barbara. Some people are like that, reminding you that the world isn’t such a bad place after all.
I had such a good time on that trip that I wrote a blog about Barbara entitled, “Long Live Lunch Ladies.” https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/thegsandwich.wordpress.com/18012 It was one of my most well-read blogs, mainly because of Barbara’s wide circle of friends.
We promised to stay in touch and actually did, reconnecting for a night of bowling last winter. And then the pandemic struck and Barbara got the news that she had breast cancer, forcing her to make weekly visits to the hospital, the last place anybody wanted to be.
Before her diagnosis and the pandemic, Barbara worked as a cafeteria worker at a school in her hometown. You know someone has superhuman skills when they actually enjoy being around a rowdy group of kids at lunch every day. It takes a special brand of tolerance and compassion to do that work, but Barbara loves her job.
She even took her lunch lady roll onto the road during our trip to Washington, bringing along mozzarella sticks and fruits and veggies for hungry marches in a portable cooler cross-strapped to her body. She taught me the trick to opening up a mozzarella stick correctly, something I could have used when my kids were little.
Barbara set up a Facebook page called “On Mondays I Wear Pink” to allow her friends to track her progress and offer words of encouragement and support during chemotherapy. But I couldn’t help think of Barbara and how difficult it must be to cope with breast cancer during the pandemic. At a time when everyone was being told to avoid hospitals, she had no choice but to venture out and risk contracting Covid-19. On top of that, she couldn’t see any family or friends during her five-month treatment.
Though Barbara knew she had an army of supporters pulling for her, her family and friends wanted to show her how much she’s loved. So on her last day of chemotherapy, they organized a very socially distant welcome home party, covering her house in pink streamers and balloons and lining her street with cheering family and friends. Double bonus: even her husband Joe, who’s been at her side throughout her treatment, didn’t know about the welcome parade.
Barbara emerged from her car looking overwhelmed, thanking everyone for coming out and promising to get better quickly so she can go bowling again and have a sip of tequila with friends. But mostly, she looked happy to finally see people after months of treatment and quarantine.
We were always with her in spirit, but I think the turnout showed Barbara how much people love and care about her. And let’s face it, when you’re sick, sometimes that’s what you need most.