Friday, December 27, 2013

Routine Lab Work

With only routine lab work to complete, I was a lucky one in the clinic at eight o’clock on December 23. I had been fasting since before midnight. The hallways down which I walked to the lab were nearly empty with only a security employee at the front desk. I had no wait after submitting my lab request form – went right in, hung up my coat, and settled in the first cubicle to get my blood drawn. With the easiest of topics my conversation with the lab technician provided just the distraction I usually need to avoid a glimpse of the needle or of the tube filling up with blood.

Sitting in the lab, I was far from the serious holiday business of the week. There could hardly have been a setting less infected by Christmas themes and colors. I took some reassurance from that life-as-usual atmosphere. Any presents I had left to wrap or rooms I had still to vacuum for a holiday guest would have to wait.

Until a decade ago I could not have envisioned a routine visit to any clinic the week of Christmas. I would have been planning to travel either to New Orleans to see my parents or to Pennsylvania to visit the family of my partner at the time. I would have been about the business of being a son or a brother-in-law. I would have been walking into homes where a television was almost always on; I would have eaten off plates and drunk from glassware that dated from the years of high school and college. Cotton snow on a mantelpiece, hard candy in a glass bowl – I knew that my Christmas would have to fit into the Christmas of people older than I, people with more of a right to the rooms in which I dropped my suitcases and hid my gifts.

In the clinic this past December 23, I was the man around whom younger professionals worked, entered data into online records, swabbed an arm and drew blood. Even if our age difference was only a decade with some of them, I was part of the population they were not surprised to see in a clinic the week of Christmas.

To get coffee and a little breakfast sooner rather than later, I took a chance that there was a café or a clinic dining room down one of the first-floor hallways. I was right and hovered inside the door to check where to order food and where to pay for coffee. In the half hour that I sat at one of the tables, I watched out of the corner of my eye as one customer with his arm in a sling ordered breakfast and another in a wheelchair waited for her husband to bring her food to the table.

What was the chance that either of them had expected to be in this clinic the week of Christmas? What would be different about this year’s celebration from those they remembered from just a few years back? Which patient did the man in a suit sitting near the counter expect to see first when he had made it up to his clinic office? What lab results would he have to report, what news deliver?

With only routine lab work behind me, I wanted to believe that I was a lucky one in the clinic at nine o’clock on December 23. I wanted the Christmas I had waiting before me. I wanted to believe that I had made the Christmases of parents and family happy in years past. I hoped I would have the courage to face a Christmas one day if it should ever be different from the one I had planned.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Thursday, December 19, 2013

In Love at Christmas

If something takes time, we think twice before committing to do it in the week before Christmas. Just below the everyday tasks from December 17 onward, a seasonal pot pourri bubbles up within all of us – part planning, part spending, part music, part mail, part home, part family, part memory, part stubborn reality.

We may be careful in what we start to read, careful in what we venture to write, careful in what we agree to attend and who we agree to host.

Something like a metaphysical landscape rises up within us, the awareness that what does not make us proud in how we order our priorities during these end-of-year days may reveal values awry. We will get shown up, we fear. Who have we become if this is what we can leave undone? Who have we become if this is all we can afford?

Are there things we are too old to still be doing? Are there things we can never be too old to say?

Can we pass the vacuum cleaner one more time for a holiday guest?

Is there a friend who agrees that chocolate brown ornaments look great in a bowl?

Monday, December 9, 2013


It was a rainy Friday afternoon in early December. I was riding in the front passenger seat, having taken on the role of navigator with the help of the GPS in my phone. The three of us were headed to a cabin in Pennsylvania, a destination that only one of us had ever visited before.

The rain was steady. Moving through Connecticut, then New York State, then New Jersey, we approached the Pennsylvania state line in the midst of rush hour traffic. We had inched through the merge of 287 and 78 and called our hosts when we thought we might be only an hour away.

The rural location of the cabin created the usual problems with the phone connection; text messages remained undelivered or unacknowledged for minutes at a time. The friend in the back seat directed the flashlight app on his iPhone and read a print-out of directions that one of our hosts had emailed him to help with the final hour of driving.

We were three men, each around sixty years old, taking an exit off the interstate onto state roads with the expectation of a welcome and a well-cooked meal. The driver in these last hours of the trip was a gentleman I had just met that day, a longtime friend of the man in the back seat who had invited me. When I turned around at different times, I caught the familiar outline of his face by the light of his iPhone flashlight.

I was trusting myself with this man.

I was trusting that the New York friends who had extended this invitation to their Pennsylvania cabin were people I could like and grow to know.

I was trusting that the dog who lay so quiet at the feet of his owner was going to like me as well.

The rain grew heavier, the deeper into the back roads we drove and the closer to the cabin we came. Eventually a pair of headlights moved slowly in our direction, minutes from where the cabin should be. One of our hosts had come to greet us on the unpaved winding road on which his and other cabins faced.

The next morning we all sat with our coffee and looked out on a creek swollen by the previous night’s rains.

I had made my way into warmth.