Two Canterbury Tales
August 15, 2009
A couple of days ago, I overheard two strange statements. My wife and I went into town for various errands. One task was getting my hair cut. My hair dresser is a charming, down-to-earth woman who chats with me about her 15-year-old son who is a quarterback on the high school team. He had suffered an injury, but was bouncing back. Her husband had wanted to have his injury examined by a specialist, but she was confident in the healing power of youth.
As she finished with my hair, the next customer took a seat in the salon. “You’ve lost some weight,” she told him.
“Happens when you’re drinking,” he said. “I just spent two weeks in the hospital drying out from a binge,” he explained cheerfully.
“Yes,” she replied. “While somebody is drinking a lot of alcohol, they don’t pay much attention to food.” It struck me as an extraordinary conversation for a public place with half a dozen strangers listening, not the least because he was so cheerful and upbeat about it.
The second conversation was not meant to be overheard, but even more unusual. After a bit we went to the main cafe in town for lunch. It’s a very busy little restaurant. The food and the service is best described as “Not bad.” I have no problem with leaving a tip for the usual percentage, but I am not motivated to leave anything extra.
As my wife and I took a table, I noticed two young people sitting at the next table. If I was a bar tender and they ordered an alcoholic drink, I would have checked their ID’s very carefully, though I would not have been astonished if they were of legal age. On the other hand, I would not have been surprised to learn they were still high school students, either.
The woman was very pretty, with long blond hair and clear blue eyes, though she wore a shapeless, careless smock over jeans. I would not have been surprised to learn she was a princess on the homecoming court.
The young man seemed more like a member of the chess club or the debate team. I would not have described him as a “geek” or a “nerd,” but he did not seem like the type of young man one usually found in the company of one of the high school soc’s. I did not get the impression they were a “couple,” but they were having an animated conversation with lots of smiles and chuckles.
As I had taught high school for almost ten years, and not been a particularly happy or well-accepted kid myself in high school (though not persecuted like David had been), I tend to have a visceral dislike of adolescents and young adults, who often seem to have a nasty attitude and a great need to put down anyone not exactly like them in appearance, behavior, and attitude but I got very good vibes about these two young people. Their conversation and manner seemed amiable, cheerful, and good-natured.
I had not particularly meant to listen to them, but their table was very close to ours and gradually the conversation seeped into my consciousness. The young women was talking about a recent trip and how she had ended up in the hospital with a heart attack. The conversation struck me as extraordinary in two ways: one was how remarkable an occurrence this was for someone who is not much older than 21 years of age, if that, and second, how cheerfully she told the story and how cheerfully her companion received it. If one experiences and survives a terrible event such as that, gratitude for being alive is certainly a natural response, but relaxed cheerfulness surprised me, even so.