Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Two Cheshire Cats

Karen and I climbed the wooden steps and on to the deck of the Beachcomber. We were seated at a corner table that overlooked the ocean. I paused for a moment and watched the rhythmic crashing of the waves and their slow retreat. It was a clear day. Glancing up and down the coast, I delighted in the view of the shallow tide pools and jagged steep bluffs.

The hostess set our menus down before us, but the glare of the sun sent me scrambling through my purse in search of my sunglasses. Clutching them between my fingers, I slipped them on before scanning the breakfast choices. Conveniently I forgot my obsession with losing weight and decided upon the, everything on it, Beachcomber omelet.

Then a tall lanky young man with a shock of dark curly hair introduced himself as our waiter. He was polite but impersonal. His tone couldn’t penetrate my glow as I reflected upon the fact that my colleagues were now working in their classrooms while I sat in the sunlight contemplating whether or not to order champagne. He quickly took our orders including my request for champagne at nine o’clock in the morning.

Just before he turned and left, I looked up and announced with a lilt in my voice, “This is the first day of our retirement.” He looked surprised. Then with such warmth, he asked us our professions. When I responded, teachers, his previous indifference diluted completely. His mother was a teacher too he replied with obvious pride. Then he congratulated us. Shortly thereafter he returned with the hostess and introduced us. They both stepped closer and set a slice of their famous cinnamon French toast with a single candle in the center. I didn’t think anything could heighten my sense of joy, but this gesture from strangers who delighted in our passage into leisure brought me to a higher level. Sometimes our southern California culture with its impersonal walls creates a sense of remoteness reinforcing our separateness rather than our commonality. Moments like this remind me of our connectedness with others.

After making a wish and blowing out our candles, Karen and I sat perched on the edge of our new adventure looking like duplicates of the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland.

It caused me to recall the exchange between Alice and the cat. “One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree, ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go,’ was his response. ‘I don’t know’, Alice answered. ‘Then, said the cat, it doesn’t matter.’” And so it seemed as we sat in the afterglow of our breakfast. Indeed it didn’t matter. This freedom offered more opportunity than I ever imagined.