We all have utterly routine moments, and one of mine involves going up our San Francisco street. The keyword is, of course, up. But for me this mostly involves torso position. In a wheelchair, batteries doing the work, uphill is of no consequence. And so, here I was late this very afternoon, steaming quite pleasantly up our street in the dusk until I encountered a known obstacle. Not personally known, but generally known, the chunky older woman who was weaving around in front of the bookshop. By ‘weaving’ what I mean was that she was shifting from one foot to the other, doubtless gazing at the display. None of this is of any importance unless you happen to be crossing paths. Wheelchairs are both wide and limited in their maneuverability, so it was important that this woman and I not try to occupy the same space at the same time, vis-à-vis collision.
But, I could see, this was almost destined to happen. She wasn’t aware of my advance, but casually stepping forward and back, right in my homeward bound trajectory. Hard to know what to do in such circumstances, except to say ‘excuse me’ while slowing or stopping.
‘Oh’ she said, stepping back to make way. Thanks, I said, half amazed at the obliviousness of people, while very aware that these ‘people’ include me. Were I able bodied and standing in front of the bookshop, exactly the same scene might have unfolded.
Because now that I am old, I am learning about the essence of oldness. While there is no minimizing the failure of hearing and seeing, senses that provide a navigational window on the world…. There’s more to it than that. I find myself increasingly preoccupied. And preoccupied in the way of the elderly. My mind is elsewhere. I am always thinking of something else. While this has been a lifelong habit, now that ‘something else’ has become dominant. Absent-minded would be one description.
Well, so what? I think it’s important to accept all this, but not dwell on it. What dominated the afternoon was something quite invigorating, Mary Zimmerman’s production of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a dramatic version staged by the redoubtable Berkeley Rep. In less than two hours, one was transported, invigorated and fulfilled and challenged by the timeless wisdom of the Roman poet. I had never read the original work, dating from 4 CE, but perhaps no one else in the audience had either. No, I retract this statement. In Berkeley it is very likely that someone knew the text well. More to the point, it didn’t matter.
The play transposes, and occasionally makes modern fun, of the ancient classic. Did I mention that the entire thing is staged in, and around, a pool of water? If this sounds like a gimmick, the simple answer is no. It isn’t. It’s a medium. And in the course of the evening, with the actors wading, floating, falling and splashing…not to mention performing on the perfectly dry stage that surrounds the water…you can’t believe this could be staged any other way.
In fact, I would like to read the script. The images and the wisdom go by so quickly. Why Eros is a god without sight. Why Psyche is obliged to wander. And what these tales of archetypal figures and forces tell us about our lives. In short, it was heady stuff, stimulating and suffusing one with hope. For in the end, as wise people everywhere understand, life and its finest aspects have to do with love. That’s where the show ends up. That was in my mind as I was heading up the street. And, okay, I am old and like the woman obstacle frequently get in the way. But life does have its moments. Good ones, let me be clear. Profound ones, let me be clearer. And, yes, it is uphill.