Gas station interlude
I used to talk with strangers, and now, like everyone else, I carry a phone.
An Upper Valley service station. A young woman, waiting for her car, scrolling through her phone. Me (not a young woman), waiting for my car, scrolling through my phone. Both of us breathing in the same slight whiff of rubber tires and gasoline fumes that identifies a place such as this. It could have remained so weirdly parallel, siloed.
Just before leaving, she was running through her options with the service technician regarding a car that might get her back to her apartment but wasn’t fit to withstand her upcoming journey to Washington DC. The conversation was three feet away from my listening ears; I felt a pang of worry over her plight, and heard the word “graduation.” A Dartmouth grad, then, trying to get to her first job. The technician inquired, “Government?” She shook her head.
I powered down my phone and asked, “Where to?” “Paralegal work for a law firm.” She looked a little unsure. “I want to see if I might like it, practicing law.” She shoved her wallet in her purse, looked through the window for her car. I told her I was a lawyer. She stopped, searching for the right response. She decided to inquire:
“How has your life been?”
What a perfect question, I thought, and one I had never been asked. No magic words, I managed, “Great!” And a sentence or two about how law was wide-ranging, encompassing the big firm private sector with lots of money, or choices with less money and opportunities to fight for social justice. Both with long hours. She nodded, appeared to give it a thought. And then she was off.
We had sat in silence together for a half-hour, not even a glance, until the final moments when we chanced upon a connection and took a couple of minutes to dialogue. Without eyes glued to phones for all of that time, I admit I flatter myself to think she might have found more of my insights into life and law at all interesting, let alone useful. But for sure I would have found the experience of learning more about her—what about law she found interesting, what gave her pause, what kind of life does a person in her early twenties envision for herself—satisfying. (It is, I realized, what I miss most about teaching.)
Anne Cogbill Rose’s acrylic painting Texting received a Juror’s Recognition Award at AVA Gallery last week. It is so perfectly of the moment. Maybe her seated subjects could be seen as examples of companionable silence. For me, they are a portrait of lost opportunity, a loss we visit with—often—in our daily lives, and without knowing what the alternative might have brought.
In addition to Rose, Juror's Recognition Awards were given to Mary Mead for her woodcut, Silhouette I; Ann Sauderson for her acrylic painting, Spring Longing #2. Travis Paige won The Cornelia M. Rahmelow Prize for his photograph, The Reentry. All four award winners are invited to exhibit their artwork in solo exhibitions at AVA Gallery and Art Center next summer from June 16-July 14, 2023.
The juried exhibition, As We Tilt Toward the Sun, features the works of over 40 artists and is on view at AVA Gallery until July 9, 2022. (Photo courtesy of AVA Gallery and Art Center, Lebanon NH.)
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Susan B. Apel shuttered a lifelong career as a law professor to continue an interest (since kindergarten) in writing. Her freelance business, The Next Word, includes literary and feature writing; her work has appeared in a variety of lit mags and other publications including Art New England, The Woven Tale Press, The Arts Fuse, and Persimmon Tree. She connects with her neighbors through Artful, her blog about arts and culture in the Upper Valley. She’s in love with the written word.