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Voices / Essay

Holding doors

‘I decided that living to be 100, as I plan, makes it easy to divide my life into quarters’

Charlene Wakefield, president of Write Action, works at Vermont Legal Aid doing financial analysis. An artist and writer, her work has been published in The Best of Write Action, The Cracker Barrel, the Chrysalis Reader, and in these pages.

Westminster West

Lately, people have been holding doors for me. In just one day, three did so: a woman who works in the same building as I do; a man at the bank who even instructed his young son to “be polite” and hold the second door; and even an elderly gentleman at the library.

What’s up with that?

I’m still two months from the age where I might expect such courtesy. Have I suddenly acquired an aura of senior citizenship? Do I look frail? Am I more wrinkly than I was last month? Do I dotter?

I often find myself holding doors for others, so this sudden, unexpected reversal makes me uneasy. It’s an overabundance of ... what? Kindness? Respect? Manners? Or is it mere training?

Wherever this behavior has come from, it’s been a bit of a shock to me. Of course, people have always held doors for me when the situation is appropriate, but three in one day? Four, if you count the son?

* * *

I don’t yet feel deserving of all the deference — I don’t yet feel old. Maybe I will in two months when that magic birthday rolls around, but I doubt even that will do the trick.

I decided that living to be 100, as I plan, makes it easy to divide my life into quarters. The first quarter was becoming myself, growing a personality around the basic stuff I’d already come with (which is a whole other conversation) and getting it all to mesh. That part took me at least 25 years.

The second quarter was for the kids — for letting them and helping them to get started on their own development, discoveries, learning, and becoming. There went another 25 years.

The third quarter? That one is for myself: for enjoying the things I’ve come to appreciate, for expansion of the self I’ve found myself to be.

It’s a time to keep busy and still learn. Not so much about who I am (I’ve already pretty much got that by now, thank goodness) but about the world, in both a large sense and a small sense; to examine all it means from continents to innovations to philosophies.

But just as important, it’s for planning and getting ready to be able to take care of myself in the fourth quarter.

It’s for working for what I’ll be needing, for being responsible for my future self.

And, of course, it’s a time for holding doors for people who are elderly — and maybe some youths as well, just to get them thinking.

* * *

The last quarter is going to be when I reap the benefits I’ve set out for myself — of reading by a cozy fire, of going to the movies whenever it pleases me, of spending time with my children (if they’ll have me), of writing and art, of eating out if the fancy takes me.

Maybe I’ll start playing canasta or mah-jongg. When the snow gets too deep, I can travel to warm climes: Cuba, maybe, or Arizona. Or I may just sit in my chair, my cat in my lap, and watch nature out the window.

Everything will be ready for me in this final quarter.

And my clue as to when to begin resting on my preparations?

That will be when people start holding my elbow when I cross the street.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #406 (Wednesday, May 3, 2017).

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