Sometimes I wonder:
— Am I the only person who has one set of behaviors for public and another for behind closed doors? The other day I was eating while reading a magazine. I took a moment to come up for air. Crumbs were scattered all over the table and floor. I probably was chewing with my mouth open and paying no mind to my portion sizes. I was so lost in the sensory fulfilment of reading and eating that I lost all self-consciousness.
I though about how I am in restaurants: ordering very small portions, taking small bites, careful not to edge food too close to the side of the plate lest it spill onto the tablecloth or make rude noises while chewing. Which is the real me? Why such a big difference? You, too?
— Why I feel the need to fill in the gaps about people I barely know. Like the lady who sits in her big chair every night in front of the big screen TV. She doesn’t close the curtains on her big picture window. Her house is on a corner where there is a long traffic light. Several times a week I’m sitting at this light and I always look in this window to see the lady parked in her chair within spitting distance of this big TV. No matter the time or day, she’s there.
At first I thought she was lonely and bored. Then I started thinking she was just plain lazy. I envisioned a big TV tray with fatty foods, a sink piled high with crusty dishes, the smell of burnt food thick in the air.
Then, one day last summer, on a stroll along her street, I encountered her on the sidewalk and I felt my face flush with shame. She was obviously a stroke victim. She walked in slow, measured stops using a walker. One side of her face was paralyzed. Shortly thereafter I read a memoir in which the author tells of his mother’s agonizing crawl toward death from complications of Huntington’s disease. His mother spent her final days strapped to a hospital bed in an upright position in front of a television set. It was, he said, all she had left in life.
— If I lived 100 years in the past or in the future, would I still be me — including all my quirks, tics and odd little phobias? Does historical context define character? Does enduring a war, a famine, a Holocaust or great personal tragedy give you depth, strength and wisdom that you wouldn’t have if you lived the life of a pampered royal? Do you ever wonder if you were given a do-over of your life, if you made different choices, would you end up different or the same?