Friday, July 31, 2015

Magical Thinking

The restaurant was abuzz with dinner-hour activity, as the maitre d' led Sam and Doris to their favorite table by the picture window with its panoramic view of the river where it met the bay,

Night was falling. Out on the water a fishing boat, its running lights on, was gliding slowly back to port.

Their waiter took the drinks order and lit the candles. After he left, Sam looked around the busy dining room. He found the drone of voices at other tables, the monotone punctuated by occasional laughter, a comforting addition to the understated decor of the room.

Simply-framed nautical prints graced the pale blue walls, and the oaken tables,surrounded by captain chairs, were dressed with royal blue place mats and white linen napkins; shining goblets and sparkling cutlery completed the ensemble.

He smiled as he looked at Doris. For the thousandth time, he noticed how she pursed her lips while she studied the menu.

"What are you having tonight?" he asked, already knowing the answer.

"I'm debating whether to have the pan-seared tuna, or the salmon. Do you think I should get some clams?"

"I think you should order some clams, and the salmon, slightly under-done," he said, "and I'll have some Manhattan clam chowder, and the broiled sole."

It was a little game they played. No matter what was on the menu, whenever they dined here, they always ordered the same things, but they had to dance through the pretension of making a choice.

When their drinks arrived, he ordered their meal.

"How was work today? Busy?"

She took a tiny sip of her Burgundy, before replying.

"Customers were lined up outside the store when we opened this morning. I didn't leave the cash register until the lunch break. My feet are still killing me.

"But I have to say, I'm really enjoying myself. I meet so many
different kinds of people."

Doris had retired six months ago, after thirty years of spoon-feeding American history to bored high school seniors. She'd been looking forward eagerly to retirement, but the reality of not having an imposed routine to follow every day bored her immediately; within three weeks she was looking for a job.

Now she was selling jewelry at a department store in a nearby mall. The pay was embarrassing, but the job got her out of the house, and gave her something to do five days a week.

"You probably would have preferred a job like that in the first place, instead of teaching," he said.

Sam had also retired recently from a career as an administrator for a national charity, but he was busier than ever. He'd always dreamed of becoming a writer, and hr was four-fifths of the way through finishing his first novel.

"And how was your day"? Doris asked, buttering a morsel of bread.

"Great! I'm almost finished with the first draft of the novel," he said.

"Very nice," she replied.

"Very nice! Is that all you have to say? You make it sound like I just told you that I washed the car!"

"What would you like me to say?"she asked. "I know you've been working on it for quite a while. I simply said that it's nice you're almost finished."

Sam patted his lips with his napkin, and took a deep breath.

Why was he annoyed? Nothing ever changed. No matter what he did of a positive nature, her reactions were always the same; lukewarm at best.

As usual, he was angry with himself, for expecting a different response.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Packing it in at Seventy-five

Dr. Ezekiel Emmanuel said he wanted to pack it in when he turned seventy-five, in an article in The Atlantic.

It's a free country. Who am I, to disagree? As Scrooge said, it would decrease the surplus population.

He's noble to want to get out of the way; moreover, he's not telling us what to do, nor does he advocate suicide; he just wouldn't accept life-extending medical procedures.

Isn't he considerate? Only telling us what he would do? Maybe the Swedish Academy should award him a Nobel Prize for selflessness.

I turned seventy-five the other day, and I haven't decided what to do!

I think I'll have another cup of coffee. I might get a haircut tomorrow. Or, maybe not?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

I Believe

I believe in change.

And in theworld of creatures, great or small, change equals life.

We are born, we live, we die. The experience is shared by all, and although it may be existentially cathartic to "Cry out against the dying of the light,"  no amount of sound and fury will forestall the inevitable.

I believe in making the best of things. Whatever the particulars of a situation, while life endures, some aspects of that experience will be of interest, a reason to react, even in the face of pain or loss.

This I believe.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Fall

Seven years ago, I broke my neck.

A doctor at the local walk-in clinic confirmed my worst fears. By tripping on a carpet and falling, I had broken a cervical vertebra. A team of surgeons operated several weeks later, and shortly thereafter, I went home with a walker, legally handicapped.

I chose not to retire, and after Labor Day, returned to work.

My accident changed everything. Normal activities - from going to work, to grocery shopping - required careful planning to avoid mishaps. I feared the consequences of another fall.

I adjusted my routine to conform to physical limitations, making necessary changes as events and activities required. Most importantly, I taught myself to slow down; sudden movements were a constant challenge to my disabilities.

Fatigue was the most obvious deficit of returning to work. When I came home each night, I was exhausted, mentally and physically.

Months passed.

One sunny June day, I was sitting outside after lunch, chatting with two colleagues. One of them announced that he had put in for retirement. The other laughed, and said that he had done the same.

They went back to their offices. I thought about their news, and how tired I was every day. On the way to my office, I stopped by Human Resources and filed for retirement.

It was time.