It was something I realized in retrospect, but she had the kind of smile that you can only have if you’ve really suffered. It’s sort of hard to explain—like when you come back from despair you can laugh more deeply and the smallest bit of contentment means everything. I’ve seen such genuine depth in so few smiles that I knew she was special even if I didn’t fully understand why.
Over the course of an hour (the time it took for me to perform her medical procedure) I learned that she had been a child during WWII in England, and she had learned the proper way to respond to bomb scares from the numerous times she’d dealt with them. So when she encountered one here in NY working in a music building filled with children, she was the person who lined everyone up and evacuated the whole building. Later in life, it wasn’t a bomb but a fire that took her husband and house. She awoke from a coma to find herself widowed and homeless.
"You have to laugh, or you’ll cry." were some of her first words to me. She also said, "It rains on the just and the unjust alike but more on the just, because the unjust have the just’s umbrellas." She couldn’t remember who that quote was by—I think it was Cormac McCarthy—but she swore by it enough that it should have been hers. I don’t know her story. I don’t know how she survived when she came out of her coma, and I don’t know how she got to where she is today. But I do know that she laughed more than anyone else I’ve ever met, and her laugh was beautiful.