I can still smell the formaldahyde,
see the frog pithed to the board
as I went about dissecting it,
taking copious notes on what
I found, identifying organs,
both of us hidden in a corner
of our fourth grade classroom
so the other students didn’t
feel like they had to vomit.
This Yom Kippur, even though
I no longer practice the faith
of my youth and early adulthood
I shall seek the forgiveness
of the frog who thought
he was giving his life
in the early training of a doctor,
not one who ended up practicing law,
and know he will probably
forgive me for even amphibians
have compassion for us,
despite our obvious shortcomings.
At some point in each call
to a customer service representative,
or worse still technical assistance
which is a painful oxymoron
in and of itself, I pause and wonder
how the conversation might go
if I could reach through
the ether of the phone
and grab the script.
Would the voice on the other end
suddenly become attached
to a person, ripped
from its computer home?
Would that person engage
in pleasantries for a bit
before telling me that I should
go to the website where
I will inevitably learn that
there is nothing they can
or will do for me? And why
is a call to my local doctor
garbled, but my computer
voice in India is crisp, clear
if never fully intelligible?
We were certain then that we’d be
a success in life, that we’d drive
the kind of cars our fathers
only dreamed of as our mothers
chuckled about mid-life crises.
They spoke about sons and daughters
of friends who were doctors,
or at least lawyers, bemoaned
those who taught or held jobs
they called manual labor.
But we were going in a whole different
direction, we would eschew medicine,
reject law, for we would be titans
of retail, and one day we would have
too many lemonade stands to count.
It hardly seems all that long ago
when we were immortal, when
we measured our days by the number
of dares we undertook, each
with its own level of stupidity
which we took, mistakenly, for courage.
We are older now, we would like
to think far wiser as well, but the line
between truth and illusion is thin
and almost impossible to discern.
We now measure our days in open rooms
with small clusters of neatly arrayed chairs
and the odd table piled with magazines
that have faded with time and disuse,
occasionally a fish tank where it
is hard to tell who is less interested
we or the fish, but they, at least,
aren’t waiting for the nurse to call us,
take our vitals and say in a shocking display
of honesty, “the doctor will be with you
He is only four years old,
has decided he will be
“an X-ray doctor” in a few years
because he wants to see
broken fingers and legs, but
if he sees bad things
he can take them out
and throw them in the trash.
He is more perceptive
that even he can imagine
for without any medical training
it is clear he can see
right through any adult
he comes across, and he
does it was a gentle smile
that says: your secrets are
safe with me, probably, maybe.
I suspect that I am not alone in wondering
if there is a corner of literary hell set aside
for those who foist clichés on the world
and at the head of that table should sit
the fellow who first said “time marches on.”
Even Einstein realized that time is relative,
and as one who served in the military
I can assure you that time does not march,
does not follow a neat, tidy cadence,
and all to often doesn’t know where it is going.
Time does many things, it can meander
like an early morning walk along the shore,
it can rush forward like the youth
discovering what he is sure is love,
it can even plod, when the pain is growing
and the doctor is ever so slow to respond.
Oh, and sitting next to our marching friend
I nominate the fool who thought that time
might actually fly, maybe hell will be fun for him.