The vulnerability of an artist of any kind tends to surface after a long day’s work. It’s in the margins of toil that a writer seems most exposed, almost as if he would rather work every hour of the day if the human mind and soul were built in such a way.
But the mental exhaustion demands rest.
It’s Thursday. I once read that days that fall towards the end of the week should be prioritized for low-level thinking since our brains get tired like an overworked muscle. On this week, I had completely abandoned that rule. I over trained my brain.
Even cooking—an event that pleasurably distracts me from my work—did not sound appetizing. Being a Southern California native, the light mist falling from the sky on this December night influenced a sort of laziness that seems absurd to people on the East coast. And so ordering take-out food was the obvious choice for the night.
I texted my sweet Charlie that I’d be picking up food from a local restaurant that we’ve been proud to support since we moved into this suburb almost three years ago.
This little establishment is owned and operated by a tiny, delicate woman. Her physical makeup does no justice to the size of her heart. Being in the presence of this lady gives you a direct experience of what life can be like when you choose to live it without wearing a mask.
She greets me at the front desk by my first name. Her smile, as always, is disarming. She’s busy tonight since my fellow Californians seem to be just as lazy as I on this wet night. She moves quick, but gracefully like a ballerina behind the counter.
I take a seat after she tells me it will be about 10 minutes. From the day we started giving our business to this place, the TV in the top right corner of the restaurant has been playing the same clip. It’s in Vietnamese coupled with English subtitles. I’ve watched it too many times for it to keep my interest. So I pull out my phone out to give my right thumb a workout. Typically, I don’t find anything worthy, but an Instagram meme pulled through with an Instagram quote that said:
Christmas Tip: “Wrap empty boxes for presents and when your child misbehaves or doesn’t listen throw one in the fire.”
I sent this to a friend who has two young boys on his hands right now. He loved it.
My order was ready. And the lady made sure it was delivered to my table rather than me walking up to the counter.
“Your order is ready,” she said as she gently laid the pregnant paper bag down in front of me. Then, her smile receded and her eyes grew large. I could see the cortisol rising in her face.
“I have some really bad news.”
“Oh really? What is it?”
“I’m closing the restaurant on December 31st.”
I like to think that I a man of words since I read and write quite a bit. But what does a man say in this instance?
I still have no adequate answer.
And so, I told her the truth, or what I perceived as the truth.
“That’s terrible. I’m so sorry.”
She thanked me for our business and told me to say hello to my wife, Charlie. Then, true to her servant’s heart, she threw in two butterscotch candies into the food bag because she remembered that Charlie enjoys these little treats.
There is a deep loneliness that invades the mind when one loses a business. This I know for sure. It’s the mental equivalent of entering an icy, sodden and remote territory. The anguish can drive you into thinking that a ruptured ACL could be a sweet distraction from the forfeiture.
But for some reason, I have feeling that this lady understands something that I did not when I went through a similar situation.
It’s this: Our jobs – when we are in severe pain or loss – is not to let the wounds permeate everything else into our lives so that our lens on the world is stained. At the same time, we must not bury our agony like a tuber into the ground or else it festers and grows strong roots.
I believe I have found the delicate middle of these two extremes. Where one person in the midst of suffering is embodying the pain and accepting reality while not letting despair leak into every corner.
Right now, this is a fresh wound for the lady who prepares my favorite eggplant tofu dish. Someday, this experience will be a scar. This blemish will then equip her to comfort someone else going through a similar sorrow.
I told Charlie that our restaurant was closing and it made her sad and concerned. We both realized that there is nothing we can do to keep the doors open. But we could go in one last time enjoy some good food while watching Vietnamese programming with English subtitles.
Photo: Getty Images