Monday, February 15, 2010

Expectations, Interrupted

One facet of middle age that I've grown to appreciate is the smooth flow of the days, and even the prosaic milestones that punctuate them. The Sunday paper, a favorite weekly television show, putting out the garbage cans, winding the chime clock. The word routine is too negative; it's more of a rhythm that, if you're lucky, comes into your life and evolves into a comfortable sweater or pair of shoes.

The scramble of ambition that permeates our younger lives has slowed; we've settled into a fulfilling career or we've found that mythical "last job." It may not be perfect, but we've splashed in enough frog ponds for us to know that it'll suffice for a while. Life has the languidness of tropical sunshine.

In this rhythmic life, the only interruptions are usually those we plan ourselves — vacations, parties, new cars, sometimes even buying a new house if we're really motivated for change.

But there are the interruptions that are thrust upon us, the ones that remind us that languidness never lasts for long.

When I got home last Thursday night from a local high-tech conference, my wife greeted me not with hello but with an anguished sob informing me that her father had found her stepmother dead in their hot tub.

That's not a break in routine; it's a fracture.

The news was all the more astounding because, not five days before, Annelies had sat across the table from me at my father's 90th birthday party, engaging, bubbly, spirited, inquisitive as always. She could have a conversation with anyone about anything; she listened carefully as one niece talked about her excitement at working at the National Institutes of Health, her first job out of school; she engaged another niece's boyfriend in a discussion of European capital cities.

If you step back and looked at the rhythm of Annelies' 77 years, there was comfort to be found there. For someone who saw the Nazis march into her native Czechoslovakia as a little girl, it’s not so bad to pass away in a hot tub high on a hill overlooking Monterey Bay. Sitting in that warm water was a rhythm she'd cultivated over the last 20 years, as long as she and my father-in-law lived there. On that one day, though, according to the coroner's report, she stood up too quickly, passed out, and drowned. The initial shock is palpable, even as insight flows in around it.

But Annelies’ passing — as sudden and sad as she was happy — has reminded me that even as you luxuriate in the soft flowing rhythms you've created, you still never know how the day will end.


  1. And that can be positive too Howard...sometimes a downright dreadful day ends with a new client, a kid;s stellar report card, a glorious sunrise. Waxing poetic here, not to diminish the sadness in your house. My sincere condolences to you and Monica on such sudden, tragic news.

  2. Nicely expressed Howard. Loss of those loved is oh-so-painful, but looking at the life lived can be oh-so-beautiful. The rhythms pick up again, the music slightly nudged by change, but enhanced by our experiences good and bad.

    My best to you both.