Two Roads

July 30, 2018

Charles Hager, 74, of Raleigh, drove up to the customer service counter because "my damn phone wasn't working."

I was at North Hills, waiting for my daughter and trying to see why there were suddenly so many police cars, when my phone rang. It was an UNKNOWN caller ID “Hello?” I said. I didn’t catch the name, cupped my hand around my other ear and asked, “Who is this?”

“Jay Leno,” the voice on the other end repeated.

He was not calling me because we were neighbors or he was an old family friend. He was calling me because two years ago, my high school son Aidan had reached out to him and other successful dyslexics at a low point, asking for advice. Jay was one of ten who had taken the time to respond. Jay had stayed in touch with Aidan after the book we co-wrote, sharing the advice people gave him. Jay knew Aidan had graduated from high school. He also knew Aidan had not gotten into the colleges he had hoped.

“What’s he going to do?” he asked me.

I told him we had come up with Plan B, a year beefing up some of the things dyslexics have to beef up on in an associates college program in order to get into the four-year college he wanted to go to.

“Not a big deal,” Jay said. “I went to Bentley Accounting College for six months. Can you imagine me as an accountant?”

I laughed.

Then, he added, “This will just make his story more interesting.”

After saying thank you (a million times), I got off the phone and followed the blue lights to the other side of the shopping area. A white Volkswagon Jetta had crashed through the front window of a Verizon store. There was police tape marking off the scene. A bystander said the 74-year-old man drove right up to the customer service counter in the back of the store because his “damn phone didn’t work.”

What do these two stories have to do with aging, you might wonder, because that, after all, is what I write about here for WRAL’s Aging Well section.

Good question.

They have to do with two very different responses to “big emotions.”

The last years of life often come with many challenges (disease, broken hips, loss of home and independence) and along with them, many big emotions, while at the same time our ability to respond wisely isn’t as available.

Leno’s advice, “not a big deal,” was apt, as was his openly joking about his misguided professional start. Furthermore, at 68 and incredibly busy, he still makes time to do good deeds… from performing for free at fundraisers for children and veterans to calling a kid on the other side of the country to tell him he’s going to be okay. Leno is a person with a very big heart.

Charles Hager, the man who crashed into Verizon, may have had one, too. For that matter, he may still have one. (Who, among us, hasn’t felt enraged by customer service, or the lack of it, when calling our health insurance, cell or internet service provider?)

But I offer you Leno’s hard-earned advice instead next time a “big emotion” arises: have a sense of humor; be generous; don’t take everything so seriously. Things will work out.

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