He came to see me for his annual visit. He had been stable for many years, taking his medication and not having any of the psychotic symptoms that had gotten him to me in the first place two decades ago. This visit was pretty much like all the rest-at first.
Check on his symptoms. Check on his medication, the dose, any side effects, the last time he had routine lab work drawn to check liver functions, blood glucose, lipid levels. All routine.
He was, as usual, quiet, subdued, soft-spoken, looking mostly at his shoes and not making any direct eye contact. No hallucinations, no delusions. No suicidal ideation. Mood good. Sleep and appetite good.
Then, quite abruptly, he looked up, straight at me.
“How long you been seeing me?” he asked.
“Probably twenty years or more, I think,” I said.
“That long? How long you been working here?” he was curious.
“Twenty six years,” I answered. “I started with the mental health center in 1991.”
“That long? ”
“That long.” I said.
“Oh, yeah!” he suddenly sat up straighter, looking right at me, like he was seeing me for the first time in two decades. “I remember you. That, that there (and he pointed in the general direction of my beard) used to be black, dark, black, didn’t it? And that up there (he made general hair mussing gestures over his own short-cropped hair) was dark too. Now, it’s all white. It’s white, ain’t it?”
I smiled. What else could I do?
“Yes, it is a little whiter than it used to be,” I answered.
He looked dead at me again.
There it was. Simple.To the point. True. Sort of.
I smiled bravely again.
“Yes, I guess we’re both getting older, aren’t we?”
Time goes by much faster than we realize.
We form relationships, big and small, acquaintances and deep friendships, professional and casual, lasting and fleeting.
Patients age. Customers age. Teachers and mentors age. We age.
We don’t really want to. Not consciously. Not really. But we do, all the same.
We have developed institutional memories of our most cherished places, we have gained expertise, and we have developed confidence.
We think that it will last forever, but deep inside, in those places that we hear late at night as we drift off to sleep or first thing in the morning as we rub the sleep from our eyes at first light, we know that it can’t. It won’t. It shouldn’t.
Eventually, we will find ourselves being cleaned from the grimy window of time so that the generation following us may see clearly into the future. As it should be.
Now, those of you who know me know that I don’t consider myself remotely close to being old yet. I have a whitening goatee and my hair is now visibly salt and pepper when I look at my recent wedding pictures, but I pay that little mind.
I will continue to work because I find it a challenge, travel because it broadens me, and love because it gives me a reason to live another day for someone other than myself.
My work life?
It will end, if all things go according to plan, on April 2, 2032. I will be seventy-four years old. I have made an appointment with myself for that day to start the rest of my life. I have a lovely lady I would like to spend more time with one day, and an insatiable urge to see more of the world.
I’m quite sure that before I do anything else that week I will be right here, where I am tonight, sitting at my dining room table, writing something for you to read.
I have no doubt that I will have something to say.