A friend of mine had a recent tragedy and in a flurry of emails with many people copied, my email address was picked up by a relative of his, an elderly man I have never met, who lives far away.
Months later now, he still sends me emails now and then with no subject in the subject line, no salutation and no name at the end. They contain his reflections on life. I don’t know why he sends them to me but I read them. Some are more interesting—and moving—than others. Some might qualify as prose poems. Some are “real” poems with no title and no byline. The man writes very well.
Recently he wrote that the Broken Heart Club therapy class in his hometown is a wonderful place to share information. Members encourage each other to continue or just talk. At a recent meeting one member, he said, spoke about relevance. His own relevance.
The man had worked at a company for 44 years. He was well liked, received super evaluations and was popular with customers. When he chose to retire, his co-workers seemed genuinely sad he was leaving.
Five years after retirement the man went to the wake of a former co-worker. His supervisors from his old job completely ignored him. The man now feels that he was just a mote in the corporate dust. He feels all those years of total dedication were for nothing.
My email acquaintance says he understands his friend's point of view, not simply from empathy but from personal experience. He says that he too was active in a number of things as an employee in his local school system for many years. He created programs that stimulated, encouraged and developed the personalities of students. He has been retired for a while now.
The town he lives in is one of those places where everyone knows everyone, just about. At times, however, some folks walk by and pretend not to know him. And now, he says, when he sees people he once worked with and taught, it’s as if he had never worked in the school system, never had been part of their lives.
He says his brother told him. "If you want appreciation, look it up in a dictionary.”
My email acquaintance, and sadly that is all I can call him, hates that idea. A line from a play he once read has a character who says, "You must hate me.”
The other character says, "I don’t you anything at all.” The verb is purposely left out.
My email acquaintance thinks about that line often and has concluded that apathy is far worse than hate.
Apathy, he says, carries no emotion. Apathy is a concession that says the situation doesn’t rise to any emotional level at all.
And that, he says, is how it feels to be forgotten.
This time I wrote back to him and said:
We share some similarities in life that help me to understand what you have written.
If I were not married, I too might be a candidate for membership in the Broken Heart Club therapy class at the Gathering Place if I lived in your town or could find its counterpart in the city where I live.
And that is because if my wife were to die first, I would be at a loss. For the last several years my computer has been my second best friend. Since 2008 I have used it to write the poems and stories I had stopped writing for 40 or so years.
Writing is a wonderful activity but I realize now it is only an activity. It’s not a person and lacks what a human being has to offer, be it good or bad. Barbara Streisand told us how much we need people.
Your email has prompted me to get away from the computer, forget the verbs and the nouns, and meet some new people I have something in common with as a person not as a writer.
When I was working, that was always the case to one degree or another.
Although there are many benefits in retirement I have not found mingling to be one of them. I’d rather write but perhaps writing too often is not the best thing to do.
Thanks for sending me this email It’s a knock on the noggin. Let’s hope it does me some good.
And maybe some other people as well if I can get the word out. An obsession of any kind is not a good thing.