As I sat at the counter at a Deli near my workplace, I caught a reflection of an infant in the window in front of me. The infant was sitting on his Grandmother’s lap just over my left shoulder at a table for two. As the small child and I locked our gaze, his eyes immediately grew larger as if they were camera lenses dialing in to focus. As he was taking me in, I was doing the same. I noticed he had a small bald spot on the side of his head. As I guessed it was from the position he sleeps in, I smiled and began to think of the phases, changes, and growth he will go through.
The bald spot caused from his favorite blanket will grow back in no time at all. He will soon have his first haircut, he will get gum or sticky jelly in it at some point, he will fuss over his mother making him comb it for his first day of school, he will fuss over it later for his first prom, his wife-to-be will tell him how to style it for their wedding day, his children will turn it grey, and he may again experience a bald spot; however, most likely not in the same place as his current one.
As this small boy’s life flashed through my mind I decided to have the half sandwich and soup lunch special. After the waiter took my order, I glanced out the window and noticed a father holding a young girl’s hand as he helped her out of the car; she looked to be about ten or so. She jumped out ready to face whatever adventure awaited her. Everything seems so big when you’re that age. The parking lot is big, the playground is big, stores and the isles in them are big, and grownups are big. Because they only see the world that is in front of them at the moment, they do not have the perspective yet to know how overwhelming the world really is.
The first bite I take into my sandwich is interrupted both by the fact that it completely fell apart just before it reached my mouth and a sudden outburst near the coffee counter. It appears that a spoiled young man is being disrespectful to his mother. He succeeded in bringing attention to both him and his mother by shouting “I’m going, I don’t care what you and dad want; It’s my life!” His mother tucked her head down and fished for something, anything, in her ridiculously large purse to hide her embarrassment from the customers like myself who couldn’t help but turn their heads. I remember being that age, but my parents pushed me out of the nest before I was even 18 so I can’t fathom what it might be like to be cared for or coddled into my 20s like this kid who obviously doesn’t know the meaning of appreciation or respect for his elders. My guess is he doesn’t know the meaning of hard work either, but I could be wrong.
I looked back at the infant who is now on his Mother’s lap so Grandma can eat her lunch. I think about how similar the 20 something is to the infant. Eyes wide open but has no idea what anything really is yet; so blissfully unaware of the dangers that lurk beyond the protection of guarding parents. Ready and eager to take those first steps without knowing how many times you will fall before you stand tall. Neither the infant nor the 20 year old know who they are yet and neither care. I think by 30 most people have their lives figured out. Most have stable jobs, have bought their first house, and maybe have a couple kids and an SUV. They have just begun the life of a hamster running on a wheel, but it is their wheel, in their cage, and they are running as fast as they want to. They have made all their decisions, all by themselves, and are gleefully spinning their days away.
I finished my sandwich and started on my soup. The corned beef sandwich was good except there was an odd amount of spicy mustard in the last bite that put a foul taste in my mouth. I took a large drink of water to cleanse my palate and then tried the soup. It was not good at all. I decided that the half sandwich will just have to be enough and reached for my cup of Jasmine Silver Tip Tea for my dessert. It then dawned on me how by the time most people are 40, they realize they can change their minds or go in a different direction if something doesn’t work. I think at 40, you pause for a moment, take inventory of your life and make changes, as you are able, to enrich your life to its fullest potential. Many people fire up an afterburner at 40 and that’s when their lives really take off. They have the knowledge, they have the lessons learned of bad choices behind them, they know what they want and they have the resources to go get it.
Looking across the parking lot, I notice a banner that says Mercer Island’s Florist is celebrating 50 years. I wonder how many milestones in life that single florist shop has seen in 50 years; so many birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, as well as mournful losses. As the waiter handed me my check and indicated he took 20% off for the soup that I barely touched, I glanced back at the infant peacefully asleep on his Mother’s shoulder. I paid the check and returned to the cubicle that is my cage. Just before I stepped back on my hamster wheel, I paused and wished so badly that my mother were still alive. I would love to peacefully rest my head on her shoulder, just one more time.