Northern Light

Northern Light


Leonard Zwelling

I took a trip to the northeast on December 11. It was my younger sister’s 70th birthday and her husband was having a surprise party for her. I couldn’t miss that even if it meant traveling to Pittsburgh as winter approached.

As soon as I walked out the door of the air terminal toward the car rental area I remembered. I remembered the northeast in winter. The sun hangs low and the sky is grey. Of course, it was cold, but the natives thought the wind-blown forties was actually mild for this time of year. They were right. The following morning it was 32 and there were patches of ice by the side of the road, even though the sky was a painted Carolina blue. Of course, on so many levels, I froze.

My entire childhood took place in the northeast in New York and Connecticut, but I forgot. I always forget. I want to forget because I hate the cold and I love Texas and as soon as the low hanging northeastern light hits my occipital cortex, I chill. I know I am no longer home or at least no longer in my new home, but have returned to my old one.

So many thoughts run through my head whenever I return to the northeast in winter or even in late fall. Instantly I am on a school bus that I have boarded in the dark at 7 AM on the way to high school. (We couldn’t drive in New York until we were seventeen.) My feet are cold. I feel the snow coming on even if there is none in sight. My bones do chill and I shiver. My very soul knows that the winter comes with everything bad it has to offer—snow, ice, freezing rain, sloppy driving and short days. Oh, the days are short in Houston, too, but the sun is higher and the middle of the day milder. We play golf throughout the year here while my buddies around Philadelphia have put their clubs in storage.

I also think the place I visited had an effect. My sister has just moved to what I would call camp for adults. The residents are mostly older, retired boomers in very nice developments of homes with a clubhouse, a gym and a social director. The new owners love it. There are no children around and the adults have the run of the place. It really is like overnight camp for seniors. I also decided this was not for me.

Although I am clearly in the winter of my life, I am not ready for summer camp just yet. I am sure there are such places in Texas and there are certainly condos and high rises that fit this description and to which friends have moved. I am fighting it like I fought the winter over the weekend.

I may have stepped away from working life. I did so involuntarily, but with no regrets. I had no real goals any longer in my last job. I was treading water and picking up a pay check. That’s no reason to work once you are the beneficiary of the generosity of the MD Anderson retirement plan. I have come to terms with my professional life being over. Oh, sure I am trying to get a novel published, but there is so little riding on that. I have a few screenplays that I have written and hope to see made into films, but I have no illusions. I am not going to Hollywood to knock on doors as I might have fifty years ago. I made my choices. I chose medicine and academic medicine at that. I am so glad I did. And, as the saying goes, I was not born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could.

The light of the northeast refracts through the clouds but also it reflects what I chose when I went to Duke, then to DC, and then to Houston. Good choices. Lots of luck. Very grateful.

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