Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Thinker - A Novel (Chapter 1 - Part 1) A New Beginning



Chapter 1 - Part 1 - A New Beginning

IT WAS THE MIDDLE OF THE SUMMER as I recall, and I found myself sitting alone in Union Square Park on a beautiful sunny day thinking about what had just happened to me. I had just gotten fired from my job. The actual firing itself was rather uneventful. My manager had pinged me over the company instant messenger program to come to the HR office. I had a strong premonition what was in store for me. He told me that I was being terminated due to my performance on the job and although hearing the actual words was slightly shocking, I was actually relieved knowing that I wouldn’t have to trek over to New Jersey to work and spend 11 hours a day anymore at a job that I hated. The lovely young female human resources manager briefed me on a few things and then told me that I was free to leave. And that was it. I gave her my building pass, got my stuff from my cubicle, and then walked out for the last time. I remember leaving the building and stepping out into the blinding sun and feeling so awkward on the way out. A few of my coworkers were just coming back from lunch and we waved hello to each other. I didn’t have any real friends that I hung out with from work on my personal time and so that was the last time I ever saw them. The train station I had used everyday appeared foreign to me because of how the angle of the midday sun made it look. I had not ever seen it at that hour being that I was always at work during the middle of the day. I stood in the middle of the nearly empty platform patiently and boarded the next train back to Manhattan.

And so I sat there in the midday sun on one of those portable little green chairs that are haphazardly scattered around the park, reflecting on what had just happened. I kept replaying the afternoon's events over and over in my head. It had been so long since I had seen the city in the middle of a work day. It was quite empty actually. Moments later, an old man sat down in one of the chairs a few feet away from me. He had a head full of thinning gray hair and sat down slumped over to one side. He appeared to be depressed, at least as much as I was. While I sat there, with the recent events spinning through my mind, the old man suddenly spoke.
     Why do we always forget to appreciate what we have until we lose it?" the old man slowly asked aloud in his rough, weathered voice. I assumed he was talking to me. There was no one else there, but I thought that it might have been a rhetorical question. Nonetheless, my mind began searching for an answer. I looked at him ready to respond, but hesitated because his expressionless face just kept staring forward.
     “It’s because that’s human nature,” I said, trying as best I could to sound confident. The old man looked at me as if shocked that I was even listening to him in the first place.
     “What is human nature?” he asked me in the same weathered tone. I thought for a moment.
     “Human nature is the tendency to do what’s not in our best interests,” I said trying to sound mildly funny.
     “You mean like, to appreciate one’s youth while you still have it?” he asked.
     “Absolutely,” I responded.
     “Why is that?”
     “I think the reason why is because when we’re young we don’t know what it’s like to be anything else but young. We don’t know what it’s like to be old. But when we’re old, we know what it’s like to be young and to be old. And so when we’re old we can appreciate the preciousness of youth.”
     He made a face as if satisfied by my answer. It seemed like it struck a chord with him. It was honestly the best that I could’ve done. But I wasn't finished.
     “And also, youth is something that we only have once. And once it’s gone, we lose it forever. We never get it back,” I added.
     He looked at me with intrigue and a slight smile and said, “You sound like an old man.” We both let out a mild laugh before the mood got somber again.
     “My wife just got diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer,” he said. “And it doesn’t look good.”
     “Woa,” I said. This must have been responsible for the doom and gloom in his stare.
     “She may only have another year or two.”
     “Wow. I’m sorry to hear that,” I said. I had nothing close to a response to this as I had for his question about human nature. I was oddly craving a cigarette but the desire had subsided as soon as he mentioned lung cancer.
     “The weird thing is we haven’t been close to one another in the past few years. I only spoke to her four times all of this year. And one of the things I mentioned to her was that she really needs to quit smoking. We’ve been separated past few years. She lives by herself. And now I get this news that she’s got cancer and is dying.”
     This shit was getting seriously heavy. I had always gotten a little uncomfortable around people dealing with traumatic events, just like I got uncomfortable about people with disabilities. I just didn’t know how to respond appropriately.
     “I hope I’m not bothering you with my problems,” he said. I didn’t know what to say. If I said no, he might have continued on and I’d continue feeling uncomfortable. If I said yes, it might be taken as an insult. I hesitated.
     “No,” I said. “It gives me something to think about.” He turned toward me with conviction.
     “If you love someone, make sure that they know it. Never let a loved one slip by because we always forget to appreciate what we have until we lose it.”
     But I had no one. I had made it to thirty never having truly been in love. This I couldn’t tell anyone, not even cloaked in the anonymity I had talking with this stranger. But I could tell him about getting recently fired from my job. And so I did. I told the old man of my recent plight and he gave me the expected sympathy. I also told him about the long hours of work I put in for relatively little money, and how incredibly stressful and depressing it was. He offered me a piece of advice. He said I should enjoy every moment of my newfound freedom to the fullest and that I should do all the things that I wanted to do that I didn’t have the time to do before. It struck me as a great idea. Perhaps this was the ticket to “freedom” that I had been yearning for; the escape from the daily grind and monotony of work that seemed to be aging me in dog years. This was the bright side – the lemonade that could be made from life’s lemons. Rather than feeling down about my situation, it could see it as an opportunity – an opportunity for personal growth and discovery.
      My outlook had suddenly turned a bit more positive, although the day's events were not completely forgotten. As the Chinese proverb says, "A single conversation with a wise man is better than ten years of study." Feeling the urge to leave from my change of mind, I thanked the old man for his advice and told him I had to go. We wished each other the best and I hopped on the subway back to my apartment ready to start this new chapter in my life.

That was how it started.

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