Once again it was the weekend of the Loring Park Art Festival. I wandered from booth to booth examining the products of local artists: paintings, ceramics, textiles, furniture and sculptures. There were some interesting pieces to admire, but I was part of the non-buying throng, having nowhere to put any more stuff in my home.
Actually, I was bored, having seen the products of many of the same artists in previous years. But my boredom was deeper than that; I’d reached a point in my life in which I had no goals, no ambitions and no passions. I had retired from the work-a-day world and had found nothing to engage me in any meaningful way. Reading, watching TV and walking to coffee shops were not enough; I knew it and so did my family.
In fact, my elder son, Richard, got so annoyed with my lassitude that he refused to speak to me until I got off my butt and did something. But what? I still hadn’t figured that out.
So here I was, killing time at an art festival. I came around a clump of bushes by the edge of the lake, passed several more booths and found myself staring at an attractive, middle-aged woman sitting on a folding chair under a large umbrella. There was a second chair next to her and a sign that said, “The Psychologist is IN — $5 for 5 minutes.” The whole setup wasn’t very original, that being Lucy’s gig in the “Peanuts” cartoons, but it was different from everything else at the fest.
I watched her from the crowd, wondering if anyone would actually sit in the chair. I couldn’t imagine sitting there in public and talking to someone whose claim to being a professional psychologist just had to be suspect. Besides, what would I say to this complete stranger? Maybe it would be helpful, chatting with someone who really didn’t know me, who might be able to provide a different point of view. But what could I really accomplish in five minutes beyond getting suckered into an appointment for hours of expensive psychobabble?
I had decided to walk away when she looked up and saw me staring at her. She beckoned me with her finger and I scowled. She wiggled her finger at me again and I said to myself, “Why not!” She could see that I had reached a decision, so she smiled and pointed to the second chair.
I sat, and before she could say anything, I asked, “Are you really a psychologist?”
“Yup, here’s my license, right off the wall of my office.” She handed me a framed certificate that looked valid.
“Isn’t a buck a minute a little lower than you normally bill clients?”
“That it is. I thought this would be an interesting way to spend an afternoon. But enough about me. What about you?”
“What about me?” I asked.
“Well, something is obviously bothering you. Do you want to talk about it?”
I hemmed and hawed. “My oldest son refuses to speak with me. He said he doesn’t want to watch me bore myself into an early grave.”
“Is that what you’re doing?”
“Sort of. I’m not suicidal, but I haven’t found anything interesting to occupy my time since I retired.”
“How’s your health?”
“So-so. I had a heart attack and I’m diabetic, but I get by. I don’t have a lot of energy, and I do have a lot of back pain.”
“What do you do for exercise? Do you belong to a gym? Do you play golf or tennis?”
“I get out for a walk every day, but my wife says that’s not enough.”
“What about yoga? Have you ever tried that?”
“Yoga? I wouldn’t want to get into all that Indian mysticism stuff.”
“I suppose some people get involved in that aspect of yoga,” she replied, “but for most people it’s just a way to exercise and improve their flexibility. It might even help with your back pain. There’s a good yoga studio near here; you should check it out.”
“Yes, my younger son mentioned that, too.”
“Your family really cares about you,” she said.
“Yeah, they do. I have a great family.”
The psychologist thought for a few seconds. “There are colleges around here that offer courses for free to seniors. Have you thought about taking courses that you didn’t have time for when you were working?”
“Well, my grandparents immigrated to the United States from Quebec and I heard them speak French when I was a kid. I did take French classes in high school and college, but I wasn’t very interested in it at the time. That was a long time ago, and I haven’t thought about it since then.”
“It really doesn’t matter what courses you take as long as you get started with something.”
My wife, Lois, wandered by; she spends much more time than I do looking in the booths of the art fest. She saw me sitting in the psychologist’s chair and gave me a quizzical look but continued walking. By then, 15 minutes and $15 had elapsed. I thanked the psychologist for her ideas and soon caught up with Lois. I could see that she wanted to ask me questions about what I had been doing, but for once she restrained her curiosity.
In the days that followed, I thought a lot about what the psychologist had said; I really did have to do something. I got information about gentle Hatha yoga classes and began attending class once a week, and later twice a week. I stuck with yoga for more than three years, largely because Chris, our instructor, did such a good job of keeping it interesting. After a while, my back pain disappeared.
In January of the following year, I started taking French lessons at the Alliance Française of Minneapolis. I had to start at the very beginning even though I remembered many French words; French grammar was completely lost to me at that point. After about a year, I realized that I would have to do more than just take classes if I was ever to attain any proficiency in French. That’s when I began translating some of my stories with the help of my teachers.
But what could I do with the stories? I was investing a lot of time and money in them and it didn’t seem right to just leave them in a drawer, so I began publishing them on a website for my family and friends.
The website itself has become a major activity for me, as I work to make it more dynamic and interesting. It has also renewed my interest in computer programming, at least for my own projects. A desire to add photographs to some of the stories led me to digitize the many thousands of family photos Lois had carefully assembled in 25 albums.
The 15 minutes I spent with the psychologist in the park have led to many rewarding activities, including trips to Provence, France, and Quebec for French immersion classes. I just needed someone (other than a family member) to give me that kick in the butt. I looked for the psychologist at subsequent art fests, but never saw her again. I wonder how many other people she helped that day.
Richard A. Demers is a retired software architect who lives in Minneapolis with his wife, Lois. For other stories by Richard, in English and French, go to reflectionsx2.com.