An empty seat


It’s always young women who offer me a seat on standing room only crowded BART trains or MUNI buses. Never young men, who remain seated, cocooned in their obliviousness by whatever screen they’re attached to. The young men never even look up, even when they’re sitting in the marked senior/disabled seats as they often are.

This courtesy however comes with the harsh realization that a kind young woman has regarded me as a senior; in other words, old. Of course I am a senior, in biological years, yet am always surprised when asked if I’d like to sit down. Of course I don’t want to sit down…or am ready to admit that a seat would be nice. I always decline.

Gertrude Stein once said, “We’re always the same age inside.” Inside I’m not a senior. Maybe…35? 45? Certainly not a teenager, or even twenty-something. To regain those years could only be contingent on knowing what I know now and applying that knowledge (wisdom?) forward. Maybe I would make the same mistakes, but it would be with some foreknowledge of the end game.

Being a senior comes with some relief, too. I’m not hopeful about the world in general to wish to be young today. I fear for my grandchildren. Irreversible climate change. Erosion of democratic principles and practice. Scarcity of needed resources. Environmental catastrophe. The lowering of civil discourse. Population growth. Resurgent nationalism. Cancer. Republicans. Trump.

The daily news is a heavy dose of depression and anxiety.

There’s heartbreak, too. Reading a story I wrote about another time and another loss, a friend of mine wrote the other day, “My sincere hope for you in this very difficult year is that these many reflections bring clarity and not disappointment and being disillusioned. You are walking a new path with new knowledge.”

Clarity. Disappointment. Disillusioned. New Knowledge.

Clarity and disappointment might be the same thing—though clarity is a word I never want to hear. It’s the word my wife used to confirm her decision not to try to find a new future for our marriage. Clarity of vision. Her vision. And yes, that was disappointing, heartbreaking.

Disillusioned? Love seems to be a disillusion. That it’s so ephemeral, inconstant, unsustaining. That marriage vows mean nothing, can be so easily broken. That one must be in love or out of love. That relationships require “equity” to be maintained, to make the effort “worthwhile.” My wife said our marriage had no equity, and therefore was not worth saving. That is disillusionment.

So perhaps, just perhaps, being a senior means not being disillusioned for too many more years. And finding a path to that new knowledge before it’s too late.

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