The Sound of Silence

The Sound of Silence

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There was something about my new neighbors Genevieve and Elmer that I didn’t comprehend. They were nice enough in all other respects. But they had this odd little quirk or two. It would be about thirty years later, long after they’d both passed, before I understood.

When my oldest son was three months old, we moved into a new (to us) house. It was at the end of a cul-de-sac, and at a lower level than the street up above us. One day, shortly after we moved in, I heard sirens on the street above, so I grabbed Christopher and dashed up the flight of steps between the two houses at the end of the block that led up to the higher street. An older house was directly across the street and the empty, grassy lot west of them had a grass fire at the far corner.

As we watched the firemen quickly dowse the flames, an elderly man walked over from the house and began chatting. “Would you mind bringing the baby over to meet my wife? She had a bee sting and she’s allergic, so she can’t walk over this far.”

I followed him back to his driveway, where his wife sat in a chair with an ice pack on her leg, watching the action from afar. That was the day I met Genevieve and Elmer and it was the start of a friendship that lasted until their deaths almost twenty years later.

Some people thought it strange, a 26-year-old whippersnapper being friends with this couple in their late 60’s. But it wasn’t odd to me. I’ve always had a soft spot for the elderly. It was like gaining a new set of grandparents late in life.

But there’s two things that I never understood at the time. First, was when Genevieve mentioned making an appointment at the nail salon to go get their toe nails trimmed. That seemed really weird to me. Especially if you’re on a tight budget and being very frugal in every other aspect of living. Why on earth would someone pay someone else to simply trim their nails? All you do is plop your foot up on the sink and cut them. It’s only been in the last year or two, as I’m discovering that it’s not quite as easy to just plop that foot up there anymore, that I comprehended exactly why Genevieve and Elmer treated themselves to the nail salon for this cumbersome procedure.

The other thing that was a mystery to me was the early dinners and the no driving after dark. They always ate supper around four in the afternoon. And on the rare occasions that they would treat themselves to a hamburger out, or a meal at Denny’s (usually with a coupon), they always went that early, or earlier, so that they’d be home well before dark.

I admit it. I secretly thought they were just being scardey-cats. After all, driving in the dark is no different than driving any other time of the day. Fortunately, I never confided how I thought they were being needlessly overly cautious. Because about five years ago, before I even hit the 60-years milestone, I had to make a trip to the airport after dark and had a startling realization. I hit a stretch that was under construction. There were barrels out, restricting the number of lanes, and they all had flashing red lights going and my eyes couldn’t make any of it out. It all blended together and I literally couldn’t tell where I needed to go, nor where I needed to stay away from. I almost just pulled over, stopped the car, and waited for daylight. But that wasn’t an option, so I kept inching along at barely a crawl and finally got through.

I thought of Genevieve and Elmer that night, and offered up profuse, silent apologies for the thoughts I’d had so many years earlier.

And time marched on – and night vision didn’t improve any. It kept getting worse. I found by the time I hit my 60th birthday that I was trying to avoid night driving as much as possible. It wasn’t as bad if I were on a familiar road, so if I had to come home after work in the dark, it was possible. I knew the twists and turns in the road and what to expect. It was the strange areas, where I couldn’t read the street signs at night and didn’t know where I was that was next to impossible.

One of my local libraries scheduled three presentations this year. One in September, October, and November. All from 7 pm to 8 pm. Although this wasn’t a route I frequently took, I was familiar enough with the area that coming home after dark didn’t concern me. It was the trip going that was full of craziness. At six o’clock in the evening the stream of cars headed west was bumper to bumper. All three lanes were full and it was a congested nightmare. But that was alright. It was daylight, and while it was an aggravating journey, I was comfortable making the trek.

Until November. A few days earlier, I realized that day light savings time had switched the time up an hour and at six o’clock it was now dark. Knowing how dealing with three solid lanes of red brake lights would affect my diminishing night vision, I knew that this wouldn’t be a drive I could make safely, not for the ten or so miles I needed to go.

What to do, what to do? I didn’t want to cancel at the last minute for such a seemingly insignificant reason. I also didn’t want to be an unsafe driver on the road – for my own good, and for the other drivers. So…I left an hour early and drove in the intense traffic during daylight – safely.

What surprised me is what happened when I got to the library – an hour early. I had a book in the car. I could have read. I was parked in front of a library filled with magnificent bound treasures. I could have gone inside and perused the volumes filling the shelves. I could have visited with the librarians inside. I had my phone. I could have checked email, browsed the internet, played games, or watched YouTube videos.

I did none of these things.

I sat.

In the dark.

For an hour.

Doing nothing.

It was amazing. I enjoyed the peace and solitude, spending time in reflection and thought instead of being in a rush of constant activity. I realized that even if I’m meditating or journaling, I’m still involved in an activity. I recognized how seldom I allow myself the luxury of just sitting.

I doubt when I was younger I could have simply sat in the dark for an hour and relished the stillness.

Ageing isn’t a bed of roses. There’s some prickly thorns in the process too. Diminished night vision and eyesight is one of them. But this unavoidable progression into years with increasingly higher numbers also brings with it the opportunity for growth and new appreciations. For this I am thankful.

A Cheesy Potatoes Conundrum

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A Cheesy Potatoes Conundrum

As I’m getting older I’m noticing two different issues in my life that are getting stronger. Yet, they each seem diametrically opposed to each other. A few weeks ago, an order of cheesy potatoes highlighted that conundrum.

On one hand, I’m getting better at defining what I want – and don’t want – in my life. Now that I’ve reached the magical 60-mile marker this year, it’s about time! You’d think I would have learned this valuable lesson long ago. Oh, I’ve flexed my muscles on it here and there. But overall, I’ve allowed too much to simply happen. I’ve also allowed too much in my life that I don’t want. And I haven’t pursued my dreams and true desires with enough determination.

I’m getting better at being clearer about what I want my life to be like. Is it because I sense a running out of time? A feeling that I’d better get life how I want it now because there aren’t as many years left on this side of the journey as what I’ve come through yet?

On the other hand, I’ve also gotten better and letting go of things. I’ve learned that too often many of us let unimportant details and events derail our peace.

That day I drove between two different stores that I had to visit for my day job. Passing by Taco Bell, I made a quick trip through the drive-through and ordered my favorite shredded chicken taco and an order of Cheesy Fiesta Potatoes. Yum! I could smell the aromas the two miles to my next stop. By the time I pulled into the parking lot my stomach was rumbling in anticipation of the tasty flavors awaiting my consumption.

I ate the taco first, savoring every morsel. Then I rustled in the bag in search of the next delicacy…the potatoes. It’s a little quirk of mine, but I eat my favorite thing last so that the flavors of the favored dish are the last thing I taste. Their potatoes are always toasted perfectly and swimming in a melted cheese queso, topped with sour cream. After pulling out the little container I started digging in the bag for the fork.

No fork.

I looked again, digging under extra napkins.

Nada.

What? How can I eat these with no fork?

I didn’t want to drive two miles back to Taco Bell, and then another two miles back to the store just to get a utensil that should have been provided in the first place.

This happened on a week where I was making a concerted effort to take actions that would enhance a life that is more in line with what I truly want. I wanted this lunch and I wanted a fork to eat with. Isn’t having a life that you want part of having small things consistent with your desires also?

I found myself starting to get agitated about them not putting a fork in the bag. I’d already crumpled up the receipt and thrown it in the bag since I’d paid with cash and didn’t need the receipt. As the riled-up factor started raising, I pulled the receipt out of the bag. I knew there was a sweepstakes entry on the back, so I figured there would be a customer service number somewhere on it too. By golly, I was going to email in when I got home and complain about this.

And then the ‘other-hand’ part of the conundrum kicked in. So, they’d forgotten to insert one little itty bitty piece of plastic in the bag. Yes, it was inconvenient. But, was it important? Was the world going to fall apart? Overall, in the grand scheme of life, where did this rate? On a 1-10…not even a 1.

I threw the receipt back in the bag and ate the potatoes with my fingers. Yes, it was a little messier eating than I liked. But once the fingers were licked clean, and then wiped off good – since they did give me plenty of napkins – all was well. My tummy was happy. My hands were still clean. I didn’t waste the time and gas to drive four miles to go back and get a fork. And my life went on with no differences.

Maybe four issues, not two issues, came into play that day: Creating a life that I want, letting go of what isn’t important, finding a balance between the two, and choosing your battles. No, this issue certainly wasn’t worth a battle. As I get older I find myself a little wiser in balancing between the two opposing sides and sizing up whether an issue warrants a battle, or not.

Life didn’t come with an instruction book. We have to write our own. And even though there are days where I’m not enamored with the getting older part of life, I’m thankful that I’m still here and daily adding to my personal Life’s Instruction Book. Even if it takes an order of cheesy potatoes – with no fork – to bring some of these lessons home.

December 2018
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