Sep 07, 2023, 05:55AM


Jules was never able to fully immerse himself in the cinematic insanity.

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Jules munched on the Gouda and crackers while he waited for his granddaughter to arrive. He’d never been to Amsterdam, but from the pictures he’d seen, there were plenty of bicycles, marijuana and there was an entire city made of Gouda, or at least that’s what he imagined. On her honeymoon, Reva sent a postcard of some dazzling tulip fields.

He’d learned about The Hague in his International Relations course during his senior year. When Jules watched and read the news about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he wondered if all the human striving for peace in the 20th century was under threat again.

Jules was a teenager during the Red Scare. He remembered eighth and ninth grade school drills where they dropped under their desks, one kid who came to school drunk had concussed himself. During that time, Jules found himself waking up in cold sweats, a recurring nightmare of a bomb decimating Philadelphia. Jules became somewhat film-obsessed after college. Ten years after the height of McCarthyism, films like Dr. Strangelove turned America’s atomic fears into dark humor. Apocalypse Now, then, and always, seemed to be one of Hollywood’s rules.

People were capable of horrors, of course. Jules was never able to fully immerse himself in the cinematic insanity. Maybe that was one of his problems. He could never fully unplug and enjoy the chaotic rides. Peace was something that was constantly being negotiated. Between countries, between warring cultures. Between neighboring gangs. Then there was the internal, that temporary peace to be found within each person.

Jules checked his phone. Based on her last text, Becca should finally arrive in 20 minutes. Once more, Jules returned to the article sent by his daughter Reva. The list of positive affirmations.

#18. I choose to feel calm.

After moving west, Jules discovered nature. It was as if nature meant something entirely different in the northeast, where the land was mostly flat, the summers humid, and the water at the beach was usually too cold. Over the last two decades, Jules often felt that sense of tranquility when he stepped out onto his back deck among the sycamores and oaks, with the jagged mountains angling up into the horizon. This was why he and Violet had moved here after retirement. Those moments with quiet morning coffee. When the day was allowed to meander into his consciousness, without urgency.

Jules could choose to feel calm.

#19. I choose positive and nurturing thoughts.

His friend Seamus seemed to choose positive and nurturing thoughts over negative and depressing ones. Seamus had grown up in Northern Ireland in the late-1960s, at the beginning of what everyone there called “The Troubles.” When Jules learned about that, he thought about his mom. Her whole life had been “The Troubles.” Seamus was a retired horse dentist. He’d spent decades inhaling horse breath and alleviating tooth pain, narrowly avoiding being fatally kicked more than a few times.

Jules showed Seamus the list of positive affirmations over the plates of nachos and chicken mole last week. After savoring a bite of mole and wiping his mouth, Seamus took a long look at the first page of statements and simply said, “If only we were simple creatures.”

Unlike Jules, it had been only a year since Seamus retired.

Jules asked, “Have you become a simpler creature, now that you’ve stopped working?”

“Sure, sure. I suppose. Though my children and their problems have become more complicated,” Seamus offered. 

“Never stop being a father,” Jules offered.

“Not I,” replied Seamus. “Though I recognize my own limitations better these days.”

The weekly dinners with Seamus were absolutely necessary, a form of therapy for Jules after Violet’s death. Seamus made him laugh with those sparkly green eyes and sarcastic cheer.

#20. I am right where I need to be.

As Jules read this affirmation, he took a sip of water and looked around his living room. Comfortable couch. Enough food. Enough money to feel secure for another decade and support his daughter and granddaughters. Not enough company, but that trouble was often eased, at least temporarily.

Becca arrived at last. Her Honda Civic pulled into the driveway and he heard her flying up the stairs.

“Grandpa! I’ve got your Italian sub!”


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