by Quinn Rosefsky
Outside, in the dimly lit darkness, in the land of the rising sun, our bodies still heavy with restless sleep, we stood in line, waiting.
Not knowing how quickly the cold night would pass, how thin the mountain air, not yet ready for our turn, we stood in line, complaining.
Inside, the large dining room overflowed with fellow hikers, nodding, sitting on mats, speaking words with no meaning, the lucky ones who’d arrived before us.
Sipping hot tea, murmuring, emptying rice bowls with wooden chopsticks, they took no notice of our shadows hovering, swaying, listening to a distant chorus.
Outside, in a line snaking to the door of the wind-blasted hut, refuge for too many, we wrapped thin blankets around our shoulders.
Why weren’t we the lucky ones sipping tea?
Why wasn’t it our turn?
Ahead in line, an elderly woman wearing white gloves, her lipstick perfectly applied, her jet black hair shining, silhouetted against the darkness, her face a friendly smile, turned towards us.
Touching a graceful finger gently to her lips, speaking the only language we understood, we knew patience would reward us, but when?
Not knowing what she said, still knowing exactly what she said, we sighed and stood in line, waiting.
Was that streak of light a break in the never-ending darkness?
Slowly, the line moved forward towards the light inside where we, too, would sit on mats and sip hot tea, no longer waiting.
Inside at last, the sun, a distant fuzzy orb, blinding in its intensity, freed us from sleep, brought promises of the new day, another ascent into the clouds.
And so, no longer waiting, our turn arrived, our spirits revived, we, too, sipped hot tea, emptied rice bowls, and listened to a distant chorus.
It is strange to say I used to play the French horn in an orchestra. I used to study Japanese. I used to hike. I once walked across England from St. Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay. I was once a doctor…49 years’ worth of medicine. My children were once young. I tell myself to get on with it. Leave it behind. Now I paint with watercolors. Now I have given either nine or ten courses at BOLLI (and will do two more this fall.) Now I bag ten thousand-year-old lithics as a volunteer in an archaeology museum. Sometimes I write. Last year, I wrote and illustrated four short books for my now seven-year-old granddaughter who wants me to write something new, something about chopping the Evil Virus that plagues us into tiny pieces that will never come back to hurt anyone ever again. Yes! I have left “I used to” behind and think more about what I am “going to do.”