(First published in 2013. – Owen)
I am asked many times during the day how am I doing. I invariably answer, “I’m great! How are you? How was your weekend?”
Put energy into responses to simple questions; people will mistake it for enthusiasm.
The woman on the elevator looks sad to me. I ask her if she is doing alright. “Yes, but the weekend was too short,” she says, suddenly animated. “What about you?”
“I’m great. I wish this elevator had a 5 O’Clock button, or a Friday button,” I say to her, which gets a laugh.
Why do we live in continuous regret that life is passing us by, but wish that time would go faster? I wonder if she is really alright?
My colleague comes into my office in frustration. “Do you have a minute?” says he.
“Of course,” says me.
“Have you seen the stuff coming out of Marketing? They don’t understand the simplest constraints this business operates under.”
“Too true,” I say, and I mean it.
“I don’t know why we waste so much time researching ideas that are never going to work.”
Nor do I, and I say so.
“When you had this job, was it this bad?”
It was bad at times, but not as bad as he has it, so I say words to that effect.
I thought I was good at that job, and so did he. I think he can do a good job at it though, and I’m in this new job now. No idea as preposterous as the ones he is talking about are ever going anywhere. But this is how many working days get filled – in idle frustration over passing troubls.
As lunchtime rolls around, I close my office door and open the lunch my wife made me. It is good – it pretty much always is – and I turn on an audiobook. A rich, sonorous, and very British voice says, in a measured way:
CHAPTER 31. The Wedding
Dawn with its passionless blank face, steals shivering to the church beneath which lies the dust of little Paul and his mother, and looks in at the windows. It is cold and dark. Night crouches yet, upon the pavement, and broods, sombre and heavy, in nooks and corners of the building. The steeple clock, perched up above the houses, emerging from beneath another of the countless ripples in the tide of time that regularly roll and break on the eternal shore, is greyly visible, like a stone beacon, recording how the sea flows on; but within doors, dawn, at first, can only peep at night, and see that it is there.
I can picture that. Probably because I’m out walking that time of morning most days.
Hovering feebly round the church, and looking in, dawn moans and weeps for its short reign, and its tears trickle on the window-glass, and the trees against the church-wall bow their heads, and wring their many hands in sympathy. Night, growing pale before it, gradually fades out of the church, but lingers in the vaults below, and sits upon the coffins. And now comes bright day, burnishing the steeple-clock, and reddening the spire, and drying up the tears of dawn, and stifling its complaining; and the dawn, following the night, and chasing it from its last refuge, shrinks into the vaults itself and hides, with a frightened face, among the dead, until night returns, refreshed, to drive it out.
So many days, death seems like the realest part of life. A church, with a yard, with a cemetery, with generations buried in it: that is precisely what life really is.
And now, the mice, who have been busier with the prayer-books than their proper owners, and with the hassocks, more worn by their little teeth than by human knees, hide their bright eyes in their holes, and gather close together in affright at the resounding clashing of the church-door. For the beadle, that man of power, comes early this morning with the sexton; and Mrs Miff, the wheezy little pew-opener–a mighty dry old lady, sparely dressed, with not an inch of fulness anywhere about her–is also here, and has been waiting at the church-gate half-an-hour, as her place is, for the beadle.
Ah, Dickens. A name like “Mrs. Miff”. And the man had no great love for beadles. Why would a church need a “sergeant-at-arms” anyway?
My screensaver shows me pictures I took visiting my mother out in Arizona this August last. An early morning drive into Madera Canyon is on my screen right now.
It is beautiful out there.
Is it 3 0’Clock already? I have a meeting I’m late to. However it is 5 doors down and takes me less than 30 seconds to get there.
No one else is there yet. Most show up within a minute of my getting there; a few (almost always the same few) come in about 8 minutes after the hour, causing the man leading the meeting to repeat himself for a few minutes.
False enthusiasm. 5 O’Clock button. Is she really alright?
Since this meeting involves a series of technical concerns and the right people are in the room, we make rapid progress.
I thought I was good at this job. Morning rambles. Morning drives in the desert.
The meeting over, I head up the stairs to exercise my legs. That doesn’t last too many floors, and I’m ready to walk down again.
All those people slumbering in the churchyard at the first light of dawn. With Mrs. Miff in the church.
I wonder what we are doing for dinner. My wife can’t answer the text message – she’s got her hands full with our four-month old grandson all day.
I wonder if she’s really alright.
Does anyone else, among the thousands who work here, love Dickens? Its 2013. Dickens died over 160 years ago. But he was 58 when he died, just 7 years older than I am now.
I thought I was good at my job.
It’s beautiful out there.