Voyeurs and lovers

Many of us pass our lives day to day, waking, dressing,
washing, commuting, working, eating, sleeping,
occasionally making love or having sex, sometimes
crying, sometimes laughing, but all too often
experienced as a routine. We often lose sight of the
idea of each day being a gift and of seemingly random
events as having greater meaning. We take too much for

In my work, seeing larger meaning, or even hope, is
often very difficult. For thirty years I’ve worked in
the government of a large eastern city. First as an
idealistic young program manager, then as a cop, and
then after I’d taken a bullet which stopped my “let’s-
just-chase-the-perp-over-that-20-foot-fence” days, as
an operative for the city’s Investigation Department.
We look out for corruption and for people trying to rip
off the city with scams.

Enforcement work of any kind can disillusion you pretty
nicely, thank you, and make you forget the beauty and
kindness around you. You spend your time in a paranoid
state of mind, looking for people who lie without
thinking about it, get caught, and keep on lying until
we eventually put them away. You can easily forget
about the magic of those seemingly random pauses of
unplanned joy in your life. When you get to that point,
you’re in big trouble. Burned out. Suicidal. Depressed.

That’s how cops die or slide into a bottle. That’s
where I was until one of those chance intersections of
lives pulled me out; one of those pitches life throws
at you that you can decide to turn away from, or allow
it to change you forever.

A loss of that perspective, a loss of my ability to
remember the magic in life and the accumulated weight
of too many arrows and too much caring about them had
led me to that hotel room in Seattle. I hadn’t felt
this bad in years and while I was in town to deliver a
paper at a conference and had been well received, I
didn’t make much of a difference. I was at the point
where I was counting days ’till retirement, a practice
I’d always abhorred among public servants.

That night I had showered, downed a vodka and tonic and
was looking out the curtains of my room across the
hotel’s atrium. Years ago I would have looked out of
that atrium and felt the hum of life: laughter, debate,
pain, lust, love, joy and confusion, but in some kind
of context that ended with my continuing to see the
general pleasure in existence. Now I was trying
desperately to connect to the lives all around me,
their meaning and spark.

She came out of the elevator lugging a suitcase, with a
briefcase and a laptop slung somewhat precariously over
her shoulder. Even from fifty feet away I could tell
the Logan airport tags on her luggage. Her business-
like silk dress and her demeanor narrowed her
professional options significantly. The tired dignity
with which she carried herself spoke volumes about her
ability and her strength.

This was not young administrative assistant, but
someone who made things happen. There was no wedding
band. (Years before a woman friend asked me what I
first noticed about a woman I just met. She may have
been expecting “breasts” or “body” but I replied, “The
first thing I notice is her eyes and her smile. Then my
eyes immediately drop down… to her left hand to see
if she’s married.” “Proof positive that you’re over
thirty,” she laughed.)

Although clearly fatigued, she also reeked of nervous
energy and her alert eyes were not aimed at the floor
as she walked, but casually glancing all around her:
observant, aware.

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