Tuesday, July 13, 2010
the big sunset
When I was in private practice, I had several clients who lived in rest homes.
Many of them had lived in large houses. But the inevitable erosion of age had scraped away their personal possessions they once thought defined them. Until they were often left only with a shoe box filled with greeting cards, letters, and photographs.
The silt beds of what had once been a shining city on the hill. Soon -- no city, no hill.
No matter what career heights they had scaled, each was reduced to that little shoe box. Merely waiting for the day, they would have their final possession laid away in another box.
Mrs. Strang had been a neighbor while I was growing up. A feisty Scot, she had an incredible mind for figures. Not surprisingly, she had been an accountant. I was in grade school when she and her husband moved to the house behind us. Displacing the girl with red hair who had stoked my young fantasies.
The Strangs were retired. Even then, they seemed old to me. But incredibly active. They always had time for a young guy who liked hearing tales of Scotland.
After he died, her arthritis became so disabling, she moved to a rest home. I would see her as often as I could. As her attorney. But, more importantly, as her friend.
At some point during each visit, she would pull out a tattered memory and share its private meaning with me. I came to consider those moments my personal sacraments. Sharing another person's life at its essential level.
She suffered a series of strokes that left her mind sharp but her mouth almost paralyzed. I knew her time was drawing to an end, when she started pressing her mementos into my hand at the end of our conversations.
I thought about her last night -- as I was looking through some photographs from last July. And indulged in that bitter almond taste of nostalgia. What was going on. How I felt. Who I met. Who I liked.
It made me feel a bit like Mrs. Strang. Even though I am not in a rest home, my memories are starting to become more precious to me.
Certainly I have lived more years than I have years in my future. Unless federal medical care is going to keep me pumping along until I am 125. And that is a prospect too grotesque to contemplate.
I have historically been a ruthless trasher. If I have not looked at or used something in the past year, out it goes. As I start sorting through some of my possessions in hopes of putting my house on the market, I find myself a bit reluctant to throw out everything.
Instead, I have started putting aside some greeting cards, letters, and photographs.
All I need now is a shoe box.