Friday, November 14, 2008

Cold Passages,
and Warm

The two items I read first in the local paper every morning are the police beat, and the obituaries. I have for the most part lived in the same area for forty-seven years (minus perhaps six, in various configurations), and it is not unusual to recognize names on either list. Friends, neighbors, co-workers, clients. It is generally better to show up on the legal list than on the mortal. However, this morning, it was the latter.

She did in fact work at the same agency as do I; I instantly recognized her name. I have been employed there for 22 years, she, not quite that long, but long enough. Her age was listed, only three years older than me.

I knew her name, but I realized, with some shock, that I had no face for her.

are an agency employing just shy of one thousand people spread across a county with a population of 182,742, but our two main offices are just a few blocks from each other in one modest city. Plus, C.D., rest her soul, worked in our accounting office, one of the most central functions of any sizable business. Not only did I have no face for the woman, but I didn't even know that she had left her position, as I found out, over a year ago!

This is a sad commentary on, at least, our business culture, if not our culture at large. We marginally know our neighbors, or our co-workers. Even our families and friends are spread over geographical distances, and more and more often, it seems that the primary events that bring us together are funerals. Even twenty years ago, at another agency, for which I worked in the same field, people from different departments and allied service providers would at least get together at specific taverns for happy hour on payday, or invite each other to our agency's Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. But now, there's no time, or no interest, or even a kind of tribal separation: 'you stay in your department, I'll stay in mine.' Productive cooperation has suffered accordingly.

Hopefully, my agency is more unique as regards this decline in civil congress, but I suspect that our society continues to atomize in this brave new world. I consider it a loss, despite the freedoms of anonymity.
A person has left this mortal coil, a name, published in newstype, is erased, and I am left not with sadness, but bemusement. Stronger emotions depend on relationships.

Nevertheless, rest in peace, C.D.

In the same theme, I took my lunch
yesterday at a little storefront Chinese restaurant on a cool, damp, and gray day , enjoying a plate of Hunan Walnut Chicken with pork-fried rice and hot tea. A woman with a cane and a headscarf limped by the large window, then returned, and entering the dining nook, greeted me. My mental processes paused before I recognized her. She is the partner of one of the fellows with whom I monthly get together to hoist a pint, and she has joined us for New Years and various seasonal gatherings for at least six years.

She has been battling cancer for two years, including nasty surgeries and chemicals.

We spent about five minutes talking; she was engaged in some chores on behalf of her elderly mother, and was clearly weary. We made chit-chat, and then she revealed that her most recent medical tests 'don't look too good.' Translation: 'I am closer to dying.' Her attitude seemed good, and she was appeciative of the prayers and best-wishes that have been forwarded her way. I acknowledged her... challenge... and said that I hoped that she and her beau would be able to join the gang this upcoming New Year's Eve. Matter of factly, she replied, "Well, we'll see."

Forty-six days from now, she may no longer be among the living. While not a close friend, it did make me glum, and made me reflect on how I face the prospect of my own mortal terminus. I do not believe in personal immortality, so how then do I proceed?

For me, an aphorism I have seen credited to the Shakers provides my roadmap:
"Live each day as if it were your last, but work each day as if you will live forever."
May we all, eventually, rest in peace.

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