For We Are Cooks

“Inspiration comes to those that seek it.” Did I come up with this? It’s highly unlikely. It’s more probable that the “one thousand monkeys on one thousand typewriters” idea is at work here. The quote is probably contained, more or less in its entirety, in one of the hundreds of dustless tomes lying about my house, clogging up my memory banks, and left behind for some other traveler to ponder in my endless voyages in life.

I do seek it though. Every day, the cook in me is pondering moments, sifting through smells and thoughts, memories and tastes, contemplating, wondering – is this it? Is this good? I’m not interested in molecular gastronomy in its intransiences, in its bewildering combinations of the periodic table and divergent molecular bonds. I learned enough of chemistry during my ponderings of minerals and the building blocks of nature, the things that bind together our lives in our trip on this semi-rigid body of stone we occupy.

Instead, I am interested in sharing my life, my experiences, and my reason for being, if you will. Through the artistry of food, through the simple act of sharing nourishment with other humans, cooking becomes art, which becomes sustenance, which becomes memory – all of which is bound for some other destination in the years to come. Who is to say that a sandwich shared, or eaten alone on the shoulder of some blacktop ribbon will not become a valued prescient of memory in the future?

Food transcended the simple act of nourishment for me some time ago. Somewhere between the lip of dawn and the cave of a new dark sky, cooking became more to me than just food. I realized the potential in every single thing I prepared, and so it became more than just the act of transforming the inedible into something tangible, something treasured, if for but one moment.

That is the raw beauty of cooking. The end product, which can take days, months or even years to procure, develop, tease into existence, is, if you have performed the task correctly, gone within but a moment. Works of art, arranged just so, with the passion of a soul yearning to share something so precious that it cannot be put into words, or upon a wall for viewing, are lost to memories and shared bits of information that is passed along, through the human whisper stream of consciousness into the future for others to hear of, sometimes only in passing.

The touch of the ocean upon the shore, the fallible scent of a wildflower at dawn, in the moment it winks out of existence, it’s entire life culminating in that moment, oh so fleeting; to place those passing seconds upon a plate, to bare ones soul to those strangers who dine on the memories of life; such is the existence of the cook.

Just as the artist cannot live without his brush, the dancer without her music, the mathematician without her constructs, the warrior without her battlefield, so is a cook without a medium. Ours is the simplest of professions – we are but cooks, are we not? We simply prepare food for others to eat. Only in recent years has the paradigm shifted to allow us to do what we have always wished, to truly share something with another person, the delight in senses. The smell of fresh mozzarella, the sound of a sizzle of something transcending its garden state, the taste of another’s life, taken with love and respect, so that another may live – so another may do more than just live. So that another may enjoy the life that comes to all of us, so often, at the expense of others.

So we work tirelessly, frustrated sometimes, in our quest to share what we know, what we can do, and above all else, who we are.

For we are cooks.

Two Years

“Two Years?”  The speaker looks up at me, his heavily tattooed elbows on his knees. A vein visibly pulses in the center of his forehead, and I’m struck for a moment at how much like a rock star he looks. I lock eyes with him for an instant. I am stunned and stricken by a shared emotion: Rage. Loneliness. Desperation. Fear. Loathing. But mostly, just rage. He sneers at me, his nose ring glinting in the light, too much light for the tired eyes and secrets of this room. “Shit. Man. Shit. I…Fuck man. What makes you special? You haven’t drank in two years?” His voice trails off and despite myself, my mind races away, spills freely away of its volition, and I’m suddenly…


Exhausted. The light hurts my eyes. Everything hurts. I never dreamed of such pain, never knew such a thing could exist. How a human could outlast such a pain, so large and so cold and so demanding, bludgeoning into my skull, unfettered by painkillers, drugs or alcohol. The doctor’s eyes were cold and flat – menacing. He leaned his large ass against the single chest of drawers in the room, which held despite his girth. It, like everything else, was securely bolted to the wall. Rehab, they told me. A place to rest, get my shit together, be medically supervised while I rode out DT and withdrawals. Hell was more like it. A freezing cold hell, with the AC turned down to polar as my teeth chattered and my hands shook and subzero sweat ran down my bank in rivulets of dripping agony.

He said something. I didn’t get it. I had drawn away into my own space, my own refuge, where the pain could not follow. A trick I learned, a fringe of discipline when faced with the bullies of my youth, when they hounded me for reading “Heidi” alone on the playground. A cavern within my own mind, where I could roam freely, and peer carefully out at what tormented me. I watched from that place as he shook his head irritably, shone a small light into my eyes and said more words I chose not to hear.

My wife called while I was hidden away. She was angry. Furious. Hurt. Betrayed. My foolish house of paper lies, built while intoxicated and secure in my own ignorance, burned to the ground. Money was missing, retirement funds, savings, rainy day accounts and vacation coins, all gone to feed my addiction. The bosses I no longer had at the job I never kept did not return calls on my behalf. They unknowingly added fuel to the fire of my paper house. Our pastor unwittingly fanned the flames as he stressed concern over my lack of participation in events for which I professed to have attended.

My son cried in the background as my wife silently raged. I shook the bars on the prison in my head, desperate now to be released as the sanctum of my youth listed with pain and remorse. I had been locked in before, but I had my key then. I could not find my key anymore, no way out.

Death came knocking one night to collect my debt. We stared at each other through the cage bars, gilded now with rust and rot, as old friends suddenly reunited with no warning. He held out his hand and I would not go. He nodded and tossed me a key, shiny and glinting in the moonlight of my nightmare.

I woke on the floor of the bathroom, the back of my head bleeding, from what I did not know. A nurse, large and black and female, hauled me to my feet and spoke to me as one would to a sick and rabid dog, hiding from his inevitable demise. Tears poured down my cheeks as I held her close, soaking her as she spoke the truth about what life would be like from now on. She told me that it would be hard, that all the shit people say about how things are instantly better is just that, shit. Things would not be better, she said. “It will get worse before it gets better.”


I sat in the T.V. room and waited. Someone told me it was my birthday and that I had been in that place for five days. I did not believe them. Time was no longer relevant, just a marker for an almost ruined life. I had almost nothing left. No career, no money, no freedom, no prospects, no leads, nobody to call in a favor to: Nothing much left. The doctor, sitting on the bed this time just before my release, had given me thirty to ninety days to live. “If you quit drinking.” Free of my own prison, I met his eyes and nodded. “Make the most of it.”

My wife came cautiously into the room with my son. I wept. I couldn’t help it. With shaking hands that I no longer trusted, I held him to me and marveled at how much I had missed. It was my birthday. I was forty. He was eight months. I looked into his eyes and promised him I would never miss another day. Not one.


Two years later, I look into the young man’s eyes in silence. I don’t know what to say. I see his pain, his agony and I feel his hurt. I am no longer yellowed from jaundice, and I ran five miles this morning. My liver is still ruined, and despite my outward appearance, I live on a razors edge between life and death. One infection, one botched surgery, one case of the flu, one hard blow to the abdomen and I will pass from this existence. I feel small in the face of his rage, his loneliness, his frustration. He is healthy. There is no immediate threat of death should he return to his vice, only the rejection of his driving privileges. I feel angry and helpless, and once again look at the old place, where I used to go when threatened, where I hid while the rest of me did what was necessary.

Despite myself, I begin to tell him the story of me, of what addiction took from me, but most importantly, what it did not.


I get home and my son is pretending to be sick in bed. I laugh when he demands a drink and a cookie and bring them to him dutifully, then flop out beside him to tell him wild tales of horses and pirates and trains. His eyes are big and huge and so much like his mother’s it hurts.

It’s a life worth living.

Some Rosemary Advice About Thyme and Life

Did you like the title? Thought this was going to be about food again, didn’t you? It’s not. It’s just some ponderings, doodles if you will, about not much of anything. And everything.

At some point in my life, and not that long ago, I became old. We used to joke when I was in my early thirties that it was the perfect age to be, just on the far side of the thirtieth trip around the sun. You were old enough to be somewhat mysterious, if the girl were young enough, youthful enough to date that same girl and hopefully still mobile enough in life to move if the relationship soured too fast.

The rest of my thirties changed all that. Despite all the predictions to the contrary, I did get married. I would like to think there was a collective moment of silence amongst all the available single girls at that moment, a second of recognition that I was no longer available, so to speak. I know there was no such moment, that, if anything, all the single women either breathed a sigh of relief or, if told, wore a collective group of puzzled looks, followed by a single question: “Who?”

Most men have that fantasy. At least once. Most of us don’t hang on to an altered scope of reality, as life takes us by the ass and fast forwards from the moment we get down on one knee with a small, inordinately expensive stone meant to be worn on a single finger offered as a token of our undying love and an everlasting symbol of fidelity.

The geologist in me gasped in horror when I purchased the ring that my wife now still wears, ten years later. Well versed in the Bowen’s Reaction Series, I could not believe, and still have trouble accepting, that I had spent that much money on one of the least stable naturally occurring minerals, if you call it such, on the planet. The knowledge that it would still last a few million years, give or take, a mere hiccup in geologic time, helped. Some.

But time does pass, quickly, and the diamond? Well, it was large enough to cause envy, yet small enough to be almost ergonomic. Not too ergonomic though. I had no illusions: There was going to be times when I would not be with my wife, and I wanted to make sure that the symbol of my love, my stamp, my claim on this women, would be prominent and unmistakable for what it was. I did not want any other chest thumping, potentially aggressive competitive male apes to look upon this modern equivalent to a brand and think: “I could buy that with card money!”

In the decade or so, give or take some time, that I have spent living up to what I thought were my wife’s expectations (vague and impossible), and then living up to what I thought were her parents’ expectations (more clearly defined, but still impossible), I have realized a few things. One, her expectations of me are vastly less complicated than I thought. Once I removed all the trappings of my own ego from my opinion of what might be what she expected from me, my life became much simpler. What had once been an overwhelmingly impossible feat of strength became more of a leisurely, and far more enjoyable, vacation in Bali, if you can follow my attempts at metaphor.

In line with this style of thinking, my life went from, say, a jaunt behind enemy lines with a bucket of water in an attempt to douse hell, to a walk on the beach at sunset. I finally have begun to realize a number of things about life, and I will, in the style of one who has a right to say what he thinks, attempt to share a few of them with you, in no particular order. Forgive me ladies, as this is meant to be for the male reader, although I think you will find my attempt at sage advice to be amusing.

  • Don’t worry about your wife becoming old fat, and uninteresting. You will get there much faster than she will.
  • Don’t beat yourself up too terribly much about being old, fat and uninteresting. You can lose weight, and read more. There’s nothing you can do about getting old.
  • If you need it, there is Viagra. Chances are, you won’t need it.
  • Marry for love. Don’t look for the perfect match, mate or sugar momma. If you are madly in love with her, or him, that’s enough.
  • Stop looking around to see if anyone is interested in sleeping with you. Chances are, someone is. Chances are, it won’t be worth it.
  • If you are going to drink to excess, start early in the morning. You’ll only ruin one day, instead of two.
  • Never go into a bar to solve a problem. No problems are ever solved in a bar.
  • That intern at work? The one with the amazing ass, who seems to just always need your help and is always willing to “stay late if you need her?” Be flattered, and go home. It’s a phase. She’ll get over it, move on, forget about it and have a life. You’ll get divorced, lose your kids, never get over it, never more on and end up alone. Without a life.
  • There is nothing more satisfying than being old enough to call someone who isn’t, “Son.”
  • Don’t buy the red convertible.
  • If you are working too much to spend time with your kids, stop working so goddamn much. What are you trying to prove, anyway? Do you really think going to college is going to replace early bonding time? Or a trip to a train museum?
  • Fuck work anyway.
  • Speaking of work, do what you love. The money may not come. But, you’ll be happy. Your wife, if you chose well, will be too.
  • You get old and then you die. Sometimes you don’t get to be old, and you die anyway. See the “Fuck work” and “Do what you love” comments above for qualification.
  • Love your wife all the time. If you get the urge to call her a bitch behind her back, kiss her instead. She knows that you are thinking she’s a bitch. Chances are, she’s not thinking much of you at the moment either. The kiss will save the day and just might get you laid.
  •  Sex gets better. You didn’t think that, did you?
  • Stop thinking about tomorrow so much. Think about today, right now!
  • Stop thinking about what you are going to leave behind, your manifestation of destiny, your mark on the world. Where are your wife and kids right now? Why the hell are you still reading this? Why the fuck am I still sitting here wri

Don’t Blink.

The white dashes become a solid blur. I hear nothing. With my helmet thrumming on the gas tank in time to the rousing chorus of four pistons howling, screaming to redline, sensory deprivation is complete. There is nothing else. Nothing else matters.

The brake markers appear too soon, flashing by on my right as I mentally prepare for the turn. Or do I? I certainly don’t remember ever preparing for a turn, mentally or otherwise. There is a brief moment of wonder as I begin to count the markers down, subconsciously. There is the sudden traffic to my left, at a standstill compared to the speed I and a few others are carrying into this decreasing apex right corkscrew of a turn.

I wonder at my speed. How fast, I think? 200 mph? Faster? Slower? It doesn’t matter, not at all. What matters at this moment is the bluffing game happening at the speed of thought in front of me. The slower, more novice riders are bailing, afraid or unable to maintain the speed required to pin the turn. No faith. Fearful.

This memory staggers me as I struggle to wake up. Two years into this battle with this disease and I feel the toll. Not very often, but more than before. My body won’t respond. My brain is screaming at me to just get up. I can hear my wife preparing breakfast and my two year old son repeating his morning demand for his daddy. “Daddy, daddy, daddy.” Over and over and over.

My arms begin to work, my brain takes over my body and I swing my feet to the floor. More or less upright, the next step now is to clear my head, get some feeling back in my extremities and rise. Sometimes this is immediate, requiring no thought. Sometimes, it takes a lot of thought.

The apex of the turn approaches, now right in my face. Right there. There is no escaping this. No wishing it away. This moment arrives as surely as breathing, as inevitable as death. Brake or die. Brake too soon and lose. If I flinch for only an instant, other riders will dive beneath me and take the apex. In the straightaway to follow, I will certainly lose my place with the front-runners. If I flinch.

If I don’t? Provided my tired motorcycle, in dire need of an engine rebuild and better tires holds up down the stretch, I will surely place second. Maybe third. I know better than to hope for first. The leader is a master. A true enigma. Only a devastating engine failure could harm his lead. At 200 mph, one second covers a lot of ground. Two thousand, nine hundred feet, give or take a foot or three. That’s a lot of linear earth to travel in one second.

My helmet thrums harder and I get ready for the inevitable reactions that will happen in the next few milliseconds. I have a choice. I can continue, throttle pinned, straight into the wall. Or, I can sit up straight, downshift three times as I grab the front brake lever with three fingers, maxing rpm’s for each shift, feathering the rear brake to avoid spinning out into the apex of the following sweeper, using my torso as a parachute of sorts, and stay in the race. The decision is inevitable.

I get to my feet, waiting for the vortex to stop spinning, and make my way across the bedroom into the bathroom, still stumbling a bit, pins and needles erupting all over my body as toxins begin to descend from healing muscle tissue, intestinal walls, and abdominal fluids into my circulatory system and finally mainlining into my brain stem. I wait for the cruel emotionless slap of memory loss, only a few seconds in duration, with my hand flat on the sink, my toothbrush, forgotten for the moment, drowning and softening in warm, then hot water. It passes. I’m upright. Ready for another day.

Twelve years earlier, with adrenaline slamming through my veins, I forgot the wall and pinned it all on a victory. Tired motor straining, I sat up straight and dove for the apex of the turn, picking off two more riders on my way to third place. There were no fiery crashes or moments of glory. Just me, on a worn open class race bike, with my thirtieth birthday around the corner, accepting that I was not quite good enough to beat the big dogs.

I did run with them though. As breakfast smells fill up the house and I face the small whirlwind of affection and temper of a not-quite-three little boy who looks like his Mom and acts like me, I realize that was enough. More than enough.

I’m blessed with another day.

Monsters In The Night

Thunder boomed, hard. I was half awake, my head propped on several pillows, drowsily cursing the doctors for their curiosity on my behalf. How many more nights, I wonder? I’ve gained 18 pounds since Thursday morning. It’s Saturday night. My appetite, forced anyway, has departed. Depression shoves its ugly way into my semi-waking state. I fight it, drug free, but sleep does open the door, allow a crack of unguarded real estate vulnerable to dreams and intruding thoughts. The past swallows me alive. I remember.

Thunder boomed, hard. I barely knew her name, this slight girl in pursuit of me, hell bent on interference. She angered me. Traffic roared on either side as I gauged the open spaces, mentally preparing for a moment in time, an instant, a fraction of separation in chaos that would allow me to dash across four lanes of late night traffic. The city seemed alive, monstrous, a devil, a demon and fiend; a gaping, slashed hole into the inferno, a place where monsters slightly slumbered. I felt the pull.

Lightening leaped across the sky, forked and menacing. Rain was nowhere, just this infernal heat and smog and light pollution and the pounding music from small holes in space where the lost sought what they did not have, what they could not understand, what they missed. The chasm of their souls.

The girl grabbed my arm. I frowned, annoyed once again. I shook of her hand. Intoxicated, she swayed in the menacing, drenching glow of streetlights buried in late night/early morning pollution. Exhaust fumes sickened me. The smell of burned grease, perfume, crack, meth, pot, cigarettes, booze, and sex – it was redolent. I needed space.

I fixated on one star. Only one. I sought that perfect wink of promise, of morning as I pondered my next move. I was leaving. My old green bag, so faithful, was packed. My cash was once again sewed into the bottom, safe. My bowie knife had been stowed inside, along with some essentials: A toothbrush. My passport and ID. An extra pair of shorts. A linen shirt. One pair of pants. A belt. Raincoat, tied to the outside. Duct tape, wrapped around a water bottle. Aspirin, antibiotics, bandages. Little else.

I couldn’t just leave her here. Predators loomed and scurried in the dark, menacing and overlooked in their shadow of evil. The girl swayed. I took her hand. It was clammy, cold. Desperate. She looked at me, naked in that moment, stripped of her guard, her love for me evident and obvious.

She was crying.

Thunder boomed, hard. My son cried out in his sleep and I was padding up the steps before truly awake. My footsteps, aided by adrenaline born from the ancient instinct to protect your own, were as silent as down before the breeze. I marveled for one moment at my instinctive ability to move so silently in the night, when I chose. A gift, perhaps, from my mother.

My monsters still loomed omnipresent as I entered my firstborn’s room. He was sitting in his bed, his small head, framed by blond curls, cocked slightly as he observed nature’s fury through his window. I ran my hand through his hair and down his back. Comforting.

He grinned at me in the dark. “Blanket, Daddy.” I soothed. “Yes, son, you have your blanket. Don’t be scared.” He looked at me, wide eyed and so full of questions. An unfathomable curiosity ranged in his hazel eyes, more expressive than most. “No, Daddy. Blanket.” I looked to where he was pointing. His blanket had fallen out of his crib. I picked it up, still warm from his embrace. He grabbed it delightedly.

He turned it in his hands, looking for something that I could not see, that perfect place of contentment, something that reminded him of the womb, perhaps. His mother’s heartbeat, as he lay safe and warm, listening to the love surrounding him, inundated by care and peace.

He settled back into his covers and closed his eyes. He smiled once more, then, just like that, fell asleep. One brave little boy in a thunderstorm. He knew no monsters. They had no bearing on his life.

Thunder boomed. I sat in my chair, watching my son sleep. I cried. I don’t know why.


The cook ducked out of his hut, avoiding the overhanging palm beam that had threatened to brain him since his first day in the village. He walked the stone path with the easy nonchalance of one accustomed to his surroundings, slightly bored, but still alert. He carried his two knives and a steel wrapped in an old dingy apron, once white and shiny, now dulled and frayed, but still clean. The threads of the ties were nearly gone and had been replaced with a length of climbing cord, tied in a simple square knot.

His first day off in 24 days had begun two evenings ago at around nine. He had fled the kitchen and its grinning cooks with a passion born of travel and study, studying the surf, which had been pounding since his arrival, until night stole the light from the sky and stars winked overhead, unshrouded by light pollution, as they had for a millennia. He left his perch on the short rock outcrop for the village bar, in search of a score.

He had arrived in the village from points north, broke and injured, a nasty cut along his rib cage from an attempted mugging. The rusty knife had chattered along his rib cage as the assailant tried to rip his pack from his back. The point failed to find its mark between his ribs just over his liver. He had managed to get in one hard, lucky punch and a kick to his assailant’s groin before beating a hasty retreat to the nearest bus stop, where he had dressed his wound as best he could with bandages pulled from his dwindling first aid kit. The bus ride over seemingly impassable roads, rutted heavily and drowning in spring rains, had done little to allow his cut to heal, unaided as it was by the lack of stitches.

The doctor had grinned at him, then mercilessly sewed up his cut unaided by much in the way of painkillers. The further south he went, the more macabre the doctors. The sky had been an impossible pink that evening, and a loud native band thrashed and abused a damaged guitar and drum set in a ramshackle bar filled to the brim with grinning Nicos.

He had awakened the following morning in a strange bed, at daylight, as was his habit. A soft, gentle breathing and the smell of clean hair alerted him to her presence. She opened her eyes sleepily as surf pounded on the beach, only a few hundred yards away. Her fingertips traced a path along his back as he stretched out some of the kinks and cleared his fuzzy head.

The wave was amazing. He surfed all day, coming in only to guzzle water and munch on goat tamales.

The restaurant had hired him the next day. Twenty-four days ago.

Now he made his way back to the kitchen, mentally dreading the moment he would arrive to the bedlam of corruption he had survived for nearly a month. The surf the day before, his day off, had been flat. For twenty-four days, he’d listened to the blue-green water pound the sand-covered basaltic outcropping that thrust up the water into a ridable wave, pearling along its lip and dropping its secrets, born thousands of miles away in the Pacific.

His one day off. The ocean had turned into an empty space, devoid of movement, the surf gone as if it had never existed.

Now, it was booming again. Judging from the shouts and crows of accomplishment, it was really cranking. His depression, imagined only a few moments before, blossomed into its own malignancy. The stones under his feet, worn by an untold millennia of tumbling about in the ocean, thousands of miles from their Andesite depositional environment, seemed far away, just out of reach of his lurching feet.

The kitchen door burst open and a Honduran cook threw a pan of scalding water, festooned with shellfish parts and pungent bones from the stew the night before into the morning earth. The green, ripe, pregnant smell of the rain forest was contaminated with the scent. The cook squinted at him in the early morning hazy sunlight. His teeth were set at crazy angles, rendering him threatening even when smiling. Which he rarely did.

They pass with barely a word. The kitchen door slams behind him as he ties on his apron, Chaco sandals on his feet, barely clad against the onslaught of heat. He hones his knives and sets about re-positioning his mise en place, glancing quickly at the work list to gather the ingredients necessary to placate a group of eco-tourists, vegans all. He simmers a haunch of goat in a huge cast iron pot, marveling once again and the enormity of the thing, the sheer weight of it. It took three of them to clean it properly, which they rarely did. Rust flakes mix with the fat and detritus of the barely cleaned goat, the base for the vegetarian soup to be served later to the unsuspecting white people in overpriced shoes and weather proof shell jackets, their glasses fogged over with humidity.

Eighteen days later, he stands once again by the beach, his pintail surfboard thrust into the sand beside him. How he has managed to hang onto that board is beyond him. His depression is worsening, born on the walk to the kitchen. The surf is once again flat. The girl, a brief repository of feeling, has moved on, holding one of the billionaire eco-investors hostage with her smooth skin, full breasts and grinding hips.

He tucks his board under his arm and grabs his bag, his constant companion of so many years. His knife roll, tied tightly to deter thieves, is barely visible and he subconsciously tucks it away. The tools of his trade. He melts into the tree line, his swarthy skin and silent tread causing one to look twice, if you noticed at all. His breeding showed.

He never liked this village anyway.

“Little old man.” Isn’t that such a derogatory term? But we use it so much, too describe those members of the greatest generation, the men who stormed the beaches of Normandy, who island hopped through the Pacific Ocean in the single greatest military operation still known to man in recorded history. They fought wars, went to the moon, married, divorced, loved and lived, just like we do today, but they are different, aren’t they? They still proudly wear their ball caps, stiff and unbroken, perched high on their wizened skulls, emblazoned with the heirlooms of their forgotten stations. Fighter pilots, solid state rocket fuel engineers, Frogmen, the Marines, the Shipmen, the Seabees, the Airborne – men who were proud of what they did, who embraced their past brutality as something that had to be done in the name of war and freedom. The highest number of fatalities ever suffered in military campaigns were absorbed by these men, who fought on every continent, from the sands and screeching heat of the tank battles in Africa, to the killing fields of France, to the mosquito-laden hell of the South Pacific, they were there. These same men ignored the consequences of Post-Traumatic Stress, motoring on in their new lives, living sixty, seventy, eighty years past the traumas of their youth.

Now, they are the little old men. One such man, named Dave, collapsed this morning in a little diner that I like to frequent for breakfast. It’s a throwback, an unapologetic place that serves dishes such as two eggs, meat, potatoes and toast. With coffee. Or two pancakes, with meat. Or just meat. Or oatmeal. I like it. It’s real. The staff know you by name. I have a bottle of hot sauce there with my name written on it. You meet men named Bob, Bill, George, Chris, Stevenson and, in this case, Dave. Dave struggled to his feet and breathed carefully through is mouth and nose, alternating breaths. I could tell it was something he had done before.

The staff were courteous, leaving his pride intact while offering him an arm to help him outside into the still cool morning air, where he rested briefly on a bench. The waitress didn’t say much. She just patted his arm with an absent tenderness that bespoke of experience with such things, and of love and understanding for the people around her. Inside, I watched from my bar stool, pinned and silent with respect for the scene unfolding in front of me. The customers carried on about their business, but remained attuned to the man outside, resting his weary soul, lonely in his final years, with the silent young woman by his side, providing what comfort she may.

One by one, the customers filed out, many, I noticed, without paying. I was in that latter group, I’m afraid. I was so close to tears, and so moved by the respect and homage paid to this man of stature that I had nothing to say. They patted Dave on the arm, spoke briefly to him, but did not offer pity. Instead, they showed him respect. When he indicated that he wanted to return to his truck so he could go home, no one resisted. No one suggested they should call 911, or the police, or his family, or drive him themselves. Instead, the waitress, who, in my mind, was now an angel, assisted him to his feet, and waved goodbye as he shuffled to his car.

I was now torn, tears welling in my eyes. Only a few days before, I had wallowed in self-pity over my own weakness, brought about by what many doctors predict will end my days here on this earth, that illness that I have fought for two years now, tooth and nail. But some days, I despair.

Watching this mighty man, still standing straight despite the years gone, the memories faded, the visages of battlefields and arenas of war rounding through the twilight of his final trips around the sun, I feel lost, and loathing. Not for this hero, who swings into the cab of his truck with an unsteady hand, but for myself. For all of those like me, who dare look up at the spring sunshine, the summer storms, the winters cold frost, and complain. Who am I, to question my days here in this realm? Who am I, to be in despair for a potential shortening of my time here, when in fact there is so much to enjoy, every single day?

A little old man. If only I could be just such a person. To fade into the afterlife with my pride and memories and without shame – that is all anyone could wish for. Is that not enough?