Suburban Soliloquy

138. Another Spring

The forsythia and cherry trees are in bloom in Trenton along the Delaware River, I notice the  fleeting beauty during my commute. Seventy miles away in the Bronx  where I was born, it will soon be warm enough for the old people to come out of their hives and cross Bronx Park East, to take their posts at the benches on the far side, along the park. They must be different old people by now and not the ones I remember from fifty-five years ago.

The old people come out of their winter shelters. The old people talk about their health. “If you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything.” But the old people are really talking about their lack of health. On park benches, across Formica tables in diners, while playing mahjong or dominos, they seem to compete with stories for the worst. The winners are the least lucky
or if you are too healthy, then it is necessary to win vicariously by knowing someone with dicier health.

I don’t want to grow that type of old. I don’t want to join the crowd at the early dinner special to discuss the latest upset with my bowels. It’s not to say my joints don’t ache and my digestion isn’t haphazard, but I want to defy this practice of others who share their doctor’s advice while listing the minutiae of their decay. I’m decaying too – enough said.

When did it happen? I suddenly have friends who wish to bore me with their medical histories. Sure, it’s polite to ask, but is it polite to answer at length? Better to provide the quickest of summaries and then move on. What became of the “big” questions we asked each other in high school and college? Do you believe in god? Are you afraid of death? Is there a purpose to life? What is consciousness? How do thoughts move muscles and what moves thoughts? And while we’re on the subject of movement, would you rather drive a Lamborghini or a Ferrari? Did all those questions get answered? Have the answers remained the same after forty years of living?

We abandon the big questions to balance our checkbooks, read the instructions for the microwave, dehose our computers after the latest update, paint the shutters, complain that the car isn’t repaired yet, or argue with the wrong department at the insurance company about bills they were supposed to pay. Calm down. Have a beer and some starchy treat. Watch TV. Don’t think about the pain in your back, the pressure in your belly, or the frequency with which you need to visit the lavatory – when is that next damn commercial?

Do the numbers of bottles in your medicine cabinet seem to reproduce like rabbits? Don’t tell me about it. Maybe you have more than me, maybe you don’t. I don’t need an inventory and evaluation as to the effectiveness of each. Why do we allow ourselves to be defined by our medical problems?

I admire the old stoics. I don’t imagine they are any healthier than me. Still, they are too courteous to talk about what ails them. Perhaps they’ll give you the gist, but will go to great lengths not to bore you. They persist in living interesting lives with the insolence of things that grow, because, let’s face it, the universe is trying to kill us.

In our own solar system and for light-years around the only available real estate has been this thin ribbon of soil, water and haze that wraps our planet. A short distance below our feet molten magma flows and not far above our heads hangs the cold vacuum of space. The two are always trying to squeeze us out of existence. If just a nearby star should sneeze, we’d be a cinder. A mere galactic ripple would sink us. My friends, we live by the consent of geology and astrophysics. Our niche is a momentary calm in the universe that disregards us. We are one brief sparkle on a wave crashing the beach, so don’t bother me with your arthritis or allergies. It isn’t that we should live in denial of our situation, only that we should do our best to live in defiance.

his essay is the most recent in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any
comments or suggestions,
the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
Mr Bentzman's collection of poems, "Atheist Grace" is available from Amazon,
as are "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman"