On Sept. 17, 2011, as disgruntled currents formed a tsunami that descended upon Wall Street, I once again renewed my intimate acquaintance with a journey to oblivion. I was taken to the hospital delirious with fever, hardly alive, hallucinating. On Wall Street, thousands of disinherited citizens protested the black hole into which they found themselves tumbling.
After four weeks I was declared recovered and no longer in danger of dying. I was sent to a rehabilitation center to try to regain my body's function. When I arrived at my new abode, I found myself in in a nursing home, 20 years or so ahead of my time.
I continued my recovery, oblivion fading to grey. I was making progress. I introduced myself to my body promising to pay closer attention to my chassis and an infinite illumination that resides within.
On my second day I found myself eating what passed for dinner. Opposite me was a gentleman. He introduced himself as Mr. Simon. He was 82 years old. I liked him immediately. He spoke to me about his life, his adventures. He was happy to speak. I was delighted to listen. He was there to do physical therapy for his foot. Throughout the dining room the sounds of desperation continued their relentless march to nowhere. "I want to go home." I want to die." "I can't eat this crap!" "I don't want to eat." I want to die. I could not ignore this cacophony. Each fiber of my being knew that one day one night I too would emerge in dissonance.
But now it was Mr. Simon before me. He told me how he built his own business and shared with me his philosophy of life, "Don't give a nickel to anyone else but your family." This man came to breakfast, lunch, dinner in pain, in tatters; this man, who if seen on the outside could be mistaken as homeless, told me he bought his daughter and son-in-law a million-dollar Victorian home in Brooklyn. When I commented that he must have a steep mortgage to pay, he gazed at me through his suffering, straightened himself and said, "I paid in cash."
I never knew Mr. Simon's first name. It seemed to me that after 82 years of building a life, a business through sheer force of will, Mr. Simon was an appropriate moniker.
Mr. Simon and I celebrated breathing. Each day we were served mystery food. Sometimes we felt like bouncing said culinary invention off the ceiling, but the formal ambience of our surroundings stopped us. One evening Mr. Simon regaled me with the story of how he became a businessman in the import/export industry. He was 17 years old working in a satellite office of a garment district business. Upon learning that a VP had left his job of overseeing imports and exports, he took the train to the main office on Times Square and lifted himself to the 13th floor. "It was a fancy elevator." Mr. Simon smiled. A rare occasion.
"I went right up to the receptionist and said I wanted to see the boss. She looked me up and down, this poorly dressed skinny child, barely 17 years old. She proclaimed that the boss was not available. I demanded to see him, as I was sure I had an idea that would increase profits. Finally, the boss came out. He also looked me up and down, his eyes fixed and ferocious."
"'What do you want,' said the mighty boss. I stood firm. 'Your senior vice president in charge of import export just left the company. I can do that job.'"
Mr. Simon continued. "He invited me into his office, barely able to contain his laughter. The receptionist was not as kind. The boss asked if I had any experience and I replied no. I also gratuitously added I had dropped out of high school. The latter impressed him. After haggling a bit, the boss relented and said he would give me a chance. He called in another VP and instructed him to teach me every detail of import export machinations."
Mr. Simon finished, his food unscathed. We contemplated each other. At this moment I knew I had found a dining partner who could bend time with his will. He sometimes would ask about my story, then begin to recite my life. And although I hate it when other people do so, I could not fault Mr. Simon as he was 100 percent right when he assigned me motivations and characteristics.
I left rehabilitation. When I returned home it was a few weeks before Thanksgiving. The weather would alternately be warm and cold. As my breath released small chilled clouds I sat in the backyard. I noticed that the hanging flowers on our fence had gone to seed, except for the blossoms. They remained. Their light would exit last. I thought of Mr. Simon. I thought of me.
For more by Jack Schimmelman, click here.
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