June 10, 2011


Recently, I met a group of friends for lunch. The day was warm and pleasant and there was much friendly chatter at the table for we hadn’t seen one another in some time. It felt good to be in their midst. They were contemporaries who’d worked in county government when I was a commissioner. Each listened with interest as I recounted my visit to the agency after an absence of 22 years (blog: 5/20/11). They sat quietly, nodding their heads to express their understanding.  Aging, they agreed, alters how the external world regards us, even though the hands of our internal clock have barely seemed to move.  


I walked home thinking of Franz Kafka’s short story, “Metamorphosis.”  In it, a traveling salesman, who hates his job, awakes one morning in his family home to discover he has been transformed into a large insect. He’s a good man, if a dull one, who loves his father, mother and younger sister and has spent his life providing for them. Nothing in his conduct warrants what has happened to him. Yet something has. He and his family attempt to make adjustments, but it soon becomes clear he is a burden to them.  

“Metamorphosis” could be a story about growing old, though I’ve never read a critic who made that connection. Perhaps Kafka didn’t either, not consciously. But it’s hard to ignore the parallel. We wake up one morning and realize another decade has passed. We sense our world has changed? Or have we failed to keep up? Both perspectives are true. No one is at fault.