Walking out of the gym last night, I looked up from un-muting my phone and saw a ghost. A white-haired woman sat in a chair near the door, her head down in a book, and for a moment I was again in the presence of my grandmother who died almost twenty-five years ago. As I vacillated between gladness and fresh mourning, I debated whether to tell her or not. I decided to tell her, assuring her that while my grandmother would now be over a century old, she did not look so but simply reminded me of the woman I have never stopped missing.
In the parking lot, my mind flipped to the stories I could write based on that simple encounter. What if that woman weren't a stranger at all, but in fact my ancestor, placed before me for just one more evening to answer the lingering questions I'll forever ask? What if she were indeed the stranger she was, but our short exchange extended to a cup of coffee, an email address, a friendship, a life? What if she had been offended by the comparison and punched me in the mug? The possibilities of imagination are literally infinite.
Last week, the faucet handle fell off our shower. Turns out the screw inside was stripped, and try as he might my husband just couldn't get it out. A trip to the major retailer proved fruitless, and it looked like we were staring down an expensive plumbing bill to again enjoy the luxury of cleanliness. Then inspiration, maybe, struck: our local specialty hardware store might be able to fix the problem. Off I toddled to Elliott's Hardware, and upon entering brandished the hardware of woe, and was sent to talk to one of two gentlemen in the plumbing department. The first man took a look, then called over his partner whose eyes lit up with delight. "I'll get to this as soon as I help this lady," he said, and disappeared with my handle. A few minutes later, he was back, holding $1.67 worth of parts to re-install the handle and the old screw cleared out. "I love this kind of problem!" he said, gave me the incredibly simple instructions to fix the thing ("Don't booger it too hard"), and when I asked if I should bring him all my knotty plumbing issues, I thought he was going to drop to one knee before he practically shouted yes. This is a man who loves his job. This is a man for whom work is play.
And why not? Who amongst us can't summon a mental image of an astronaut turning somersaults in zero gravity; of a high school coach running alongside her students, her grin wider than her stride; of a waiter throwing back his head to laugh with the party he's serving, clearly enjoying the job? Work is serious business, but it's also fun, or at least it should be.
Seeing that woman in the gym, and then imagining the possibilities springing from that encounter--that was fun. Writing about them would be fun. Resurrecting one of the most important people in the world to me, that is just fun. And remembering when the going is tough, in this job or your job or any job, that work is work but at its best it is also fun, is the best kind of story I can imagine. I called this a ghost story, but you know what? The only scary part is if it were not true.