California Dreaming

I had a dentist appointment last week in North Berkeley. Afterwards, I decided to have lunch in an Indian restaurant nearby that I hadn’t been to in many a year. (That’s the nice thing about not working: I can stretch out a medical appointment into a whole day.)

The restaurant was one that I frequented a lot many years ago. But somehow it flew off of my radar. I was curious if the menu and the environs were the same.

I was shocked to see that they were. Most of the restaurants around here have turned over many times or closed. But this place offered the same dishes that I remembered — and they even tasted the same.

This was good — and not so good. I enjoyed the meal just as I had decades ago. But the experience brought back all sorts of evocative memories.

As I sat there eating, I recalled sitting on the deck with a close friend of many years. Somehow we had a nasty falling out a while back and haven’t spoken since. So the image of the two of us laughing as we happily sat there had a sad, melancholy feeling to it.

Then I remembered going with a large group of people to dine there, family style. We sat in one of the large tables towards the front of the restaurant. Sitting there last week, I shook my head, recalling how one of the people in our party kept scooping out so much food that he left the rest of us with little. But it got me thinking about how many friends I had when I was younger, how I could go out in a big group — versus now.

Although there were few other people in the restaurant, there were many ghosts in the room — those of the distant past when my life was totally different. Back then I was, of course, younger, a bona fide progressive, with kindred spirits who believed in the same thing. Now, the years have sped by, and I’m way older, wiser, accompanied by the loneliness of being so different.

Before too long, my eyes were wet with tears, thinking about the good old days. This is, of course, what older people do: we remember the past in an idyllic way, oftentimes forgetting about the hardships. It all becomes a bit opaque and dreamy — what was and what could have been.

Sitting there tearful, I remembered another time when memory lane dissolved me into tears. It was some years ago, maybe around 2010, after my big political transformation. I went up to Telegraph Avenue, a truly filthy, chaotic area that I pretty much stopped going to as I got older. But when I was young, I’d head up there fairly frequently.

My favorite haunt up there was a burger place called Smart Alec’s and I was itching to have one of their soy burgers. For a long time it was vegetarian so I, as a then-vege, could indulge in some good eats: veggie burgers, french fries, and yummy desserts. Since it had been so long that I had a good burger, I went up to Smart Alec’s about 7 years ago.

I sat there eating a soy burger and fries, when I saw this young female in her 20s. She reminded me so much of myself at that age — the long, flowing hair, the thin willowy frame and the hippie-type clothes. She was with her boyfriend, and the two looked so young and carefree.

I thought of how I looked similarly hanging out at the Telegraph at the same age. Again, it didn’t take long before the tears were flowing down my face, thinking about my youthful past, now long gone. But I also became emotional thinking about how much I had changed, and the losses involved in this.

Back at the Indian restaurant last week, the waitress woke me up from my reverie by bringing over the check. Waking up from memory, I returned to the present. Looking around the place, I saw that so much had changed in my life — and yet some things have remained the same. I’m still in crazy insane Berkeley after all of these years. I can occasionally frequent the same places I went to in my 20s (sadly, Smart Alec closed a few years ago).

But the changes in my life have also been amazing — awesome. I have gone from left to right; and much more importantly, I have had God reveal Himself to me and shower me with the most enormous grace imaginable. I have become — who would have thunk it — a devout Christian. Now I try my best to put God front-and center and to live my life for Him.

Though I am much older and look nothing like my younger self, I wouldn’t trade today for all of those yesterdays. I had a lot back then: youth, health, good looks. But what I have now is infinitely greater than all of the riches of my past temporal life.

I have God in my life. . and that is bigger and better than any restaurant meal or anything else in this poignant, ever changing, ever fading life.

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