Monday, July 25, 2005

You lookin' at me?

I had dinner at Cracker Barrel the other night (now you know I live near an interstate, don’t you?) and partook of a little people-watching in the process.

Near me was a man who looked like nothing I’d ever seen before. His face was ashen, but what drew my attention were the large smudges of black around his eyes and mouth. He looked as if he’d been working with charcoal and hadn’t bothered to wash up before dinner. His posture was a bit odd, too. I immediately sized him up as seriously ill.

I tried, but I couldn’t stop looking at him. I hope I was reasonably surreptitious because I never would have wanted to make him uncomfortable. Fortunately, he was far enough away that any glance I made down the aisle included him without singling him out.

I didn’t stare so much that I could report what he ate or how robust his appetite was, but I can tell you that he was eating, and unassisted.

He looked to be, well, not much older than me.

During my meal, a group was seated in front of me, a pair of couples edging toward or comfortably in their 60’s, and a very elderly woman – well past 80, surely – in a wheelchair. As they settled in, the group paid the chair-bound woman a lot of attention, but once they’d been seated a few minutes, the 60-year-old youngsters fell into conversation that apparently didn’t interest or include the very elderly woman. She sat staring off into the distance, fingering the button at the top of her dress, peacefully living in her inner world.

Despite the wheelchair, the woman looked vibrantly healthy. Although deeply wrinkled, her skin glowed, and her eyes were bright and alert.

So there they were: the seriously ill man and the introspective elderly woman. Both surely felt the weight of their mortality more than anyone else in the room. But despite sickness or advanced age, being alive is being alive, yes? So why not celebrate another day by having a meal out?

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