12 October 2017 by Published in: Uncategorized 8 comments

A friend suggested I post this entry from my FB page, written to attempt to answer the question of why I write. Everyone’s reasons are different, but this is as good as any I’ve come up with:

The gift, or perhaps compulsion, for writing, comes from a willingness to dig for harsh truths and record every element of them, and then regurgitate them in a way that may be uncomfortable, but is interesting, or even horrifying, whether in fiction, or non.

As an example, I sat in a gelato store yesterday evening, and an elderly gentleman with a bald pate but long angel’s wings of silver-white hair on either side of his head slowly walked to the counter as I ate my treat, and paid for a single scoop of gelato in a cone. I noted that his blue blazer, while old, was an obviously expensive cut from a bygone era, the lapels hand stitched, and his gray wool slacks well cared for. His leather shoes were at one time pricey, but were splitting at the seams, the heels worn down and toes scuffed, betraying the ravages of time. I watched as he shambled from the cashier to the counter, placed his order in an inaudible murmur, and then sat a few tables from me, obviously struggling to manage the spoon and the gelato, but also all dressed up to do so.

My heart broke. Being a writer, I conjured up instant possibilities – is he an eccentric millionaire and this his guilty pleasure? Was that his last dollar and he is returning to his home he’s lived in for seventy years, his last joy a bite of gelato before he ends it all? Or does he live in a doorway, and this is his bid for humanity, if only slight. Is he a widower, and is this his window into the world of the living, for which formal attire is preferred? Or perhaps he’s one of the last living Nazi monsters, comfortably ensconced in Argentina, his cataract glazed eyes replaying his atrocities with every blink?

He dropped the cone with a plop on the floor about halfway through his one scoop, and looked around in embarrassment before scraping it up and tossing it into the garbage. Nobody else saw but me, out of the corner of my eye. He rose, brushed off his threadbare slacks, and left without a word. He didn’t glance at the cashier to perhaps buy another one. He recognized the finality of gravity’s work, and left as quietly as he had come.

I seriously considered going after him and buying him another cone, but didn’t. Why? There was a pride, a frail, birdlike poise to the way he squared his ancient shoulders, even in defeat, and left without attracting attention, as though he was making the best of what he had to work with. Who was I to intrude on his life, his drama, his experience, playing some sort of fat, privileged demi-god of gelato, thinking my overture would change anything other than to impose my existence into his life, and possibly remind him of his own failings, his own inability to buy as many gelatos as he wished, for those with whom he felt empathy? Or to make him uncomfortable because he perhaps could buy the whole town gelato, but carefully compartmentalized his ritual to only one scoop, one time, and the chips fall where they may. Worse, what if that was the last few dimes he had collected, and he’d saved them sedulously, only to watch their worth splat in a gelatinous glob on the floor? And I would then cheapen that by making it all as though it had never happened, with a “ha ha ha, think nothing of it, here are a few coins, mere trinkets hardly worth consideration?” I both desperately wanted to make his immediate reality better, to show him, hey, see, I got your gelato back, but feared the ramifications of even that smallest of kindnesses, for which I am the poorer for my inaction.

The problem with connectedness is you feel the joy, as well as the pain, and mostly the aimless futility, because it all seems so hollow and pointless much of the time, and it usually is, except for the doing, and even that is questionable. So your instinct is to want to soften that discomfort for others, and yet in doing so, you’re also reducing the authenticity of their experience, and injecting your perspective into their struggle, sometimes for good, sometimes with poor results. An easy way to frame it is trying to soften the blows for your kids, and yet robbing them of the pain that is life’s way of teaching them lessons they must learn to survive and prosper.

But what I do know is that my humanity, that kernel of sentience that’s resisted the caustic ravages of the world to this point, resonates with others at the oddest of times, be they dogs, cats, humans, bugs; and wishes that all of them could have just a brief sojourn from the norm, in a good way. Then back to spiders eating flies, and puppies being collected and gassed or tortured by street kids, and stoned punks roaming streets looking for easier duty than working. For my one divine moment, we would all be sitting with full cones of gelato, savoring that beat in time – puppies in our well groomed laps, their fur stroked by healing hands – with one collective, appreciative, sigh.

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Comments

  1. Katey peel
    Fri 13th Oct 2017 at 12:09 pm

    Hi Russell,

    I would have helped the old man to pick up his ice cream and got him another – showed him that someones cares. He was probably lonely. That’s the problem these days, not enough social interaction between people yet everyone is on social media and have friends all over the world! You did what you thought was right at the time so I am not criticizing your actions.

    Remember this. We create our own universe by our thoughts, actions ,and emotions and can easily tune into certain emotional energies without even realising it. I feel connected to almost everything yet don’t feel any sense of despair – I only feel the childlike wonder of it. The mind is a powerful tool and you can choose how you see the world around you. Try using a Dalmation Jasper crystal. This causes a paradigm shift in how you view the world and you may well be amazed. I myself am a skeptic yet this crustal is truly magnificent. It can reveal your shadow self and help you to conquer this but it is well worth it once that has been achieved.

    Katey

    Reply
  2. Tucker
    Fri 13th Oct 2017 at 1:40 pm

    Nice glimpse into humanity Mr. Blake. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  3. maxine
    Fri 13th Oct 2017 at 5:06 pm

    You certainly have a fertile imagination which is obviously beneficial in your line of work and your writing, as you are no doubt aware, is excellent. What you could have done is bought him another and sat with him. That way you could have found out more about him and whether he was this millionaire or pauper as you have fantasized about. There’s an old story about the man who is in quicksand and shouting for help. Do you jump in to the quicksand with him and you too wallow in his suffering and you both meet the same fate or do you remain positive, throw him a lifeline and change his fate making a friend and both of you happier? I think the answer is obvious. We were never meant to suffer and our natural way of being is joy. That is why when we are happy we feel healthy and complete. Unhappiness causes disease. If that means easing another’s suffering and our own then that’s what we should do. Your post is excellent and certainly raises these questions about humanity (the purpose of the post was to create a discussion was it not?)
    Your heart already knows what direction to take. Follow it and you will never doubt your choices.

    Reply
  4. Fri 13th Oct 2017 at 6:11 pm

    Good stuff, Russell. A joy to read.

    Reply
  5. Sat 14th Oct 2017 at 9:33 am

    These situations are always easy to analyse with a degree in hindsight very much like those great phots one was just not quick enough to snap.

    Although it is a good instinct to help events do not always turn out well. This summer I tried to be helpful to an old gentleman who wants to publish a travel story. I have typed up his interesting draft account but have now been warned by his wife to go away as she does not want it published. At least the adventure is now in electronic format. So many good stories are lost when people pass on.

    Reply
  6. Ken010107
    Sat 21st Oct 2017 at 9:18 am

    Thank you Russell for re-posting this little story from your Facebook page. I do not have a Facebook account, nor for that matter do I have any social media account, and therefore would have missed it.

    Many people, including my friends and family live on social media, they’re constantly on their phones adding comments, taking pictures of what they ate for dinner, checking the latest post(s) from others, etc.. Me; I have enough digital footprints out there, why add to “Big Brother’s” databases with a social media account? Nuff said on that subject.

    True, you didn’t help the “elderly gentleman with a bald pate”, and, at first I said to myself, that was insensitive, but since I work at a retirement community I often face the same situation as you did. Many seniors don’t want help, they’re steadfast in their desire to maintain their independence. You recognized his need/desire for personal independence by how the man cleaned up his mess and quietly left. Other seniors do appreciate a helping hand once in awhile, and are thankful when it’s offered. I see it everyday. But understand this, no correct answer is ever the same in a situation like you faced, it just is what it is. I think you did well.

    If I were a betting man, I’d say that we haven’t heard the last of this “elderly gentleman with a bald pate”, I can’t imagine Hanna not visiting a gelato store; can you?

    I truly enjoy how you tell a story. My mind’s eye “sees” the scenes you portray, whether it be real, like your incident in the gelato store, or something totally creative you’ve conjured up. When I read you, a movie plays in my head. It’s always a very good movie.
    Never give up.

    Your indentured fan, Ken

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 24th Oct 2017 at 10:48 pm

      You keep reading ’em and I’ll keep writing ’em!

      Reply

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