New Years Day and time to make resolutions, they say.
I can only renew (re-resolve?) my resolution of several years standing:
to try to be more approachable to overtures from strangers.
For example, while moving through the checkout line at the supermarket a few weeks ago, I heard a woman's voice ask "Excuse me, sir, are those pomegranates?" (I had two pomegranates on the conveyor in the middle of other supplies.) I turned to see a woman of my generation (my age?) and I said "Yes, they are."
"I haven't seen a pomegranate tree in 70 years", she said looking straight at me. The word 'tree' opened a curious tangent but I didn't follow.
"The fruits appear only at Christmas", I said. "I'll have to get some", she replied. "Don't wait too long", I said, "They are starting to go soft." "Well", she said, "I don't have time to go back today."
Driving home, I realized that, after checking out, I should have handed one of the pomegrantes to this woman and bid her enjoy it. Twas the season, after all, and it might have made both of us feel good. Instead I berated my self for being a self-absorbed ass.
Perhaps I can't change. For almost as long as I can remember, when a stranger approaches me to speak, my first reaction is either What does this person want? or What is this person going to do?
Apprehension always short circuits my responses and my thinking, and so I fail either to address the needs of the other or to leave the moment satisfied with my conduct.
There have been scores, perhaps hundreds of such failed connections. One that has been haunting me lately occured in the Fifties on the campus of the University I was attending. A girl who often seemed to be alone (I had noticed her before) approached me on the sidewalk and, clutching her books to her chest, asked me if I would like to have coffee with her. (She may have asked me because I was alone on campus, always.)
No, no", I said, "No thanks", and started to turn away.
"Oh, please", she said, "Please. Have a coffee with me." I felt her air of desperation, I saw the rising fear of rejection in her eyes, but I was unable to respond like a normal human. "I'm sorry", I said, "but I can't." and I turned away.
I am not absolved from guilt when I report that I was an emotional vacuum at that time. Nature, we know, doesn't like a vacuum, and two or three days later I had a breakdown, followed by a second one the following week. Subsequently, I abandoned the University a day or two later, never to return to Mount Oread.
So, here I am, an old man on a rainy night regretting this sin against life and hope.
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