The Passing of a Long Life
“What happened to my life?” Paul whispered as he stared at the piles and piles of clutter on desks and tables and bookshelves and floor. The mind strained to pinpoint the exact time as to when the vivacity for a neat and orderly life had been sapped by age, but in his heart of hearts the time was inconsequential. He sadly concluded that the mess was simply the circumstances of living a life for far too long.
Still, he could not understand why the clutter could not be seen until the last day at the university for which he had diligently served the past thirty years.
Thinking back to a time when he was young and fervent, never in his wildest imaginations could he have ever predicted that his life would be such a mess. He remembered once existing with efficiency, order, and logic. His life demanded precision in a steady hand, a discerning eye, and a crisp, fresh vision. How could it have all gone awry beneath his very nose, he wondered. In the end, it did not matter. It was now time to rid the clutter from the office. Room needed to be cleard for the professor that would soon occupy the space in his permanent absence.
“Where to begin?” wondered Paul.
He realized that sounded easy enough, but what to exclude and include in the centerpiece that would represent his legacy was daunting. There were any number of highly esteemed texts he had published through the years that could be chosen. Also, there were the thousands of summaries, articles, and personal notes that many of his colleagues and students used as references.
The office walls then grabbed his attention. The framed awards, recognitions, degrees, and honors ranging from his days of the basics of pre-med studies to last day as a professor at the medical college covered a wall from top to bottom. But, as he figured, they represented something other than his work. Basically, they were mere tokens and therefore had no place on the centerpiece. Besides, he noted while staring at the antique bookcase measuring five feet by four feet by eighteen inches and its three shelves, there was simply no room to display such vanity.
He was all too aware that the bookcase was to be a prominent display in the new library, but not necessarily for his ego alone. The display was intended to also satisfy the curiosity of any single person representing a future generation over exactly who was Paul J. Hatford. More importantly, the centerpeice would provide the answer as to why would the university choose to name the new library, one of its newest prized possessions, after him.
He looked to one of the bookcases that held some of his texts and notebooks that had long ago been stuffed onto the shelves and wondered if they would suffice. After all, he figured, the written materials already there represented the practices and methods and thinking of a time long past; it represented much of what he thought about his present life. Still, a flame of desire still flickered and just enough passion still existed to want to leave behind a statement that offered inspiration to all that would follow in his steps. He felt that best since he too followed in the footsteps of many a great physician in the past.
“Well, well, well, after all these years you finally show up,” he whimsically uttered as the title on the binding of a book stood out. Paul hobbled over to the bookcase and pulled out the novel that had been wedged in between two of the textbooks he had written over the years.
The book, a copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, was given as an anonymous gift after completing his internship. Who gave him the book, he could only guess. He did remember, however, wanting so bad to confront him or her over the five word sentence written just inside the front cover. It was a message that he had interpreted as a glaring commentary meant to belittle his so-called high stature: An autobiography of your skills.
In a lot of ways Paul could understand the inference. He viewed the message as one that was more than likely written by a fellow intern who had been in the same class all through school, and had been forcefully pushed aside and reluctantly stood in the shadows of his greatness. It was he or she believed he had artificially generated such esteemed awards and recognitions as Summa Cum Laude and had been offered a Rhodes Scholar to which he turned down. But in truth and in his own defense, Paul realized that the anonymous person never knew that the drive for success was hidden in personal tragedy. That the passion by which he went about everything was rooted in the hope that he could provide relief from the pain and suffering of anyone who was suddenly plunged into a situation of despair. Yet, such reasoning failed to lift up his spirits.
“Why can’t they see the truth?” he mumbled. For Paul, a least a part of him, could admit and understand why many of his colleagues considered him the man that laid the critical groundwork for what was happening today in the field. Then again, he felt the praise was misplaced in light of failing in the pursuit of the prime motive to enter the field in the first place. But given that it was his last official day, Paul put away the sorrow and looked to the bookshelf in hopes that some presentable arrangement could be constructed.
A quick estimation of the three shelves gave way to different arrangements dancing about the thoughts. On the top shelf, he considered stocking the space with all the published textbooks in chronological order, but quickly changed his mind. Instead, he felt that displaying the rongeur, one of the first tools he had used to bite off bits of skull in preparation for brain surgery, was a more fitting. He figured it would represent a time in life, the onset of his thirty year career as a practicing neurosurgeon, by which effective yet rough devices were needed for such drastic operations. Paul believed that while the tool would lie in stark contrast into the modern tools, devices, and methods such as a CT, MRI, PET, and MEG in preparation for today’s stereostatic, endoscopic endonseal, and ventricular surgeries now employed, the rongeur would nonetheless demonstrate an unwavering devotion no matter how crude the method or tool.
Paul took a look at the wall and decided that the tool would be accompanied by one of his many doctorate degrees even though a new frame would be in order to prop it up just to the right side of the tool. Then he figured “why not?” as the copy of Frankenstein was considered. He realized the book’s inclusion would create a ruckus from the university’s esteemed leaders, but then again he wanted it there as a symbol to his personal failure to conquer what he had set out to do.
On the shelf just below, Paul opted to include some of the textbooks and copies of a variety of medical journals. They featured many of his theories and were claimed to have had advanced the field. After setting the books in place, he took a step back and thought their inclusion was befitting to the truth sitting above.
With mental fatigue setting in from the process, Paul rushed to finish the centerpeice. He quickly decided the bottom shelf would be stocked with professional writings of esteemed colleagues from the past and the recent past. These works were included to point out that he alone had been given way too much credit for any and all the advancements made in the past five decades.
After arranging the bookcase just as planned, Paul looked around at the rest of the mess and had no idea what to do with it. Considerations over the present value of what he now viewed as archaic material, amounted to nothing. He figured that his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren would not be interested in the material. Also, he doubted, that anyone from the university would care for the useless junk. Paul picked up the phone to contact the head of the university’s housekeeping asking if she could send a large truck over to haul away the boxes and boxes of useless paper. But as he was clearing materials off the desk, something came in sight that stopped him from doing so.
“How could I have done that?” Paul whispered to the face in the framed photo. “I am so sorry my love. Please forgive me for forgetting.”
With a sudden burst of newfound energy, Paul rose out of the chair and stepped to the bookcase. The framed degree was picked up and thrown to the ground. The rongeur was pushed to the side of the shelf. The photograph of his dear departed wife was lovingly and gently set in the middle of the top shelf.
He sat back down and stared at the bookcase that was not the perfect showcase for the university’s new library named in his honor. He could see nothing but his wife’s beautiful and smiling countenance light up the room. A smile erased any doubts over the choice: “Now that’s my legacy for sure.”
Assuming housekeeping would respond rapidly to his request, Paul mustered up all the energy left in a body spent of most of its vigor and stared to rifle through the rest of the boxes. He was worried that his forgetfulness just might lead to missing some other treasure that might be uncovered and be worthy of a spot on one of the shelves.
While still waiting for housekeeping, the next few hours were dedicated to rearranging the materials. He added other works that could contribute to the prized trophy, and therefore become a living narrative that would go on living long after death. With an attentive mind and careful considerations, the shelves were arranged in a way that was both aesthetically pleasing to the eye and thought provoking to the mind. A final inspection of the finished showpiece prompted a call to the university’s president advising him that it was ready to be transported to the library. In a matter of hours, hundreds would gather for the unveiling of the centerpeice and for the formal opening and dedication of the new library named in his honor.
A check of his watch indicated it was time for the onset of the final stroll over to the campus building where his graduate students waited eagerly on the final day of class.
Not caring to return to the office, Paul looked one last time for any keepsakes that had yet to be packed away. With nothing coming to mind, he zippered up the suitcase.
For the late autumn day, Paul grabbed an overcoat off a hook and buttoned it up securely. He then wrapped a warm and cozy muffler around the neck, and pushed down a hat tightly on the head. For a moment he paused at the door and pushed the glasses back up onto the bridge of the nose, turned around, and with one last look silently said goodbye to a way of life that never would return. The time of usefulness had elapsed.
The Passing of the Torch
A leisurely walk across the campus grounds on the cool brisk day brought Paul just outside the once majestic building housing the classroom. He eyed the façade wondering while the architectural design may have once been a sight that demanded awe and wonder, he now viewed the structure as a relic plagued with plumbing and electrical problems that required round the clock care.
In a lot of ways, he could see the building one day receiving the same fate of being shut down and condemned. It would be razed and the plot of land made ready for the newest and innovative design. That day was near. There had been much discussion from the board of regents deeming the building too old to meet the demands of the youthful aspirations of those that roamed the campus.
A sense of eagerness for the winter break broke through the building’s entrance. As he dragged the rolling suitcase up the steps, a gang of students celebrating with giggles and laughs vaulted down the steps while another gang of students rushed past him heading for the entrance. Paul fought hard to hold the concentration steady and fight against the whirlpool of excitement. He would not allow himself to get upset. It was just an expression of their turbulent stream of exuberance over the day for final examinations. With that thought in mind, he safely ascended the steps.
Reaching the door, he paused. He knew he had not prepared a final speech and wondered what could be said. The students, the group of young men and women whom he had met on the first day of the semester knew him mainly by reputation. For the remaining weeks of the course, they were only subjected to his expertise in the medical field by the post-graduate students that taught the class while he was involved with ongoing research. And although he was compliant with the request to have the students complete the final examination the week before to create an opportunity to express final sentiments, Paul believed any words would fall on deaf ears.
The hallway was dead silent as he entered. He was careful to roll the suitcase across the bare, marble floor so as not to create a distraction to those attentively attending their final examination behind the closed classroom doors.
As he approached the assigned classroom, there were no signs of moving images blurred by the opaque window of the door. There was no sound of chatter coming from within either. For a moment, he wondered if anyone had bothered to show up on the last official day of class. Surprisingly, a round of applause followed by hooting and hollering from students and faculty and friends and colleagues erupted as soon as the door was opened.