Last night, I had dinner in a restaurant that I rarely frequent. The fact is, I rarely frequent restaurants at all. As much as I love the idea of being part of the society of restaurant diners, it is not a regular part of my life. As exceptions go, last night was a pleasant one. I found myself seated in a Mediterranean-style restaurant in a coveted window seat reveling in the sound of a classical guitar and the fragrance of rosemary, basil and garlic.
What happened was one of those small coincidences of life that mystify. In a city with over 69 restaurants from which to choose, on my once-in-six-month evening out, I saw a group of customers standing at the hostess station waiting to be seated. Initially, they were just faces to me, then one face took shape, gradually becoming familiar. It was the face of a colleague with whom I shared an office over twenty-five years ago. For almost two years we sat across a partner’s desk in a shared office. Perhaps another woman would have jumped up, crossed the restaurant, pumped his hand, his wife’s hand and that of his son’s (could it be?) as well as the hand of his son’s girlfriend. I am not that woman. I did not do anything of the kind. I was not ready to do the “Wow, you haven’t changed a bit! What have you been doing with yourself?” exchange. First. because it wasn’t true that we haven’t changed. His visage has been altered, as if it had been through an age-progression model. Time, not computer-simulation, has done the work. I can imagine my face has changed as well. Life has its way of leaving its mark on our features. I would be able to summon questions about his life and family with ease. In response to what I have done with myself over the years, I would have stuttered without a neat, packaged answer. I could speak in glowing terms about my family and with pride in their accomplishments. Yet, how would I describe the path my life took? How a genetic imperative has dictated many of my choices and most of my actions in recent years? I was not up to fielding that question. Instead, I turned my body slightly away, knocking my cane to the floor. I picked up the cane, leaned it against the window and returned to my dinner.