Last looks

by tamarjacobson

Quote of the day:

"It's a holy thing to be a writer. It is why you want to write your memoir: to remember all of it. The good and the bad. To trust your experience, to have confidence that your moments and the moments of others on this earth mattered, not to be forgotten, wiped out with the new decree, the better plan. 

It is a great thing you are doing whatever it is you are remembering. You are saying that life – and its passing – have true value." Natalie Goldberg [Page 265]

Yesterday I started making an inventory of "goodbyes." One of the exercises that I have started writing in a journal I was given for Christmas. It is a small book, with a fabric cover – floral, paisley design in rustic colors and splashes of blue. The paper inside the journal is roughly bound, and a piece of elastic band holds the book together. Its size made it easy to slip into my bag as I walked off, around the corner, to the High Point Cafe yesterday. I took the long way so as to get in a twenty minute walk at the same time, and the morning was crispy cold. By the time I arrived at the cafe, the tip of my nose was rosy red from the wind, and my glasses steamed up as I walked in the front door. The warmth of the place enveloped me with its diverse community of old and young, babies and young children accompanying young parents and grandparents, all talking and some laughing. Others bent in closely over their tables in intense conversations. I carefully pushed my way through the crowds to a small table in the corner and placed my coat, hat and gloves on the chair to book my space while ordering at the counter a cheddar cheese scone and non-fat latte.

As I began eating, drinking and writing, a young man asked if he could sit at my table as there were no more seats in the small room of the cafe. I agreed at once. He pulled out his iPad and began checking out news on CNN. First he gave me a large, warm smile and wished me a "Happy New Year," hoping that my day was going well. It felt perfect. Indeed, the perfect venue to start writing my list of goodbyes. I was not alone as I began to explore "fare-welling" during the past sixty one years of my life. I had been putting off this exercise for a couple of months now. In the feelings department, it had seemed formidable.

In between sips of the milky coffee-latte and soft, cheddar scone perfectly baked with traces of salt and pepper subtly integrated into the warm dough, I began my inventory. As I wrote each memory down, yet another would immediately rise up from somewhere in my brain: "Oh yes, and I remember that time!" – Each goodbye setting off an association with yet another and another.

I named that journal entry, "Last Looks," because I realized that goodbyes have to do with my memories of how people looked at me before they departed – whether through security gates at airports, boarding a bus, waving from a car window, glancing back while walking down a road, or just before they died. Some of those last looks have stayed with me for years, compounded by guilt and regret haunting me at times, at others with yearning for good times gone by.

Eventually I ran out of memories. I laid down my pen, and gazed around the cafe. The young man opposite me was engrossed in reading his iPad and there had been some comings, goings, exchanges and rotations of groups and couples at neighboring tables. I was exhausted. Nostalgic. My throat seemed closed, with an almost choking sensation, and I wanted to weep. As I gathered my empty cup and plate to discard in the buckets next to the counter at the back of the room, the man looked up directly into my eyes. Once again he gave me a large, warm smile, and this time said gently, "Have a wonderful day out there." 

I stumbled out onto the sidewalk and as I almost jogged down the hill towards my house, tears streamed down my cheeks.