The massive roll-top was a beast of a desk. Purchased his first year in practice, it represented what he was becoming: a teacher, a doctor, a man with vision and a heart full of idealism. It had stood out at The Antique Guild, the place where a generation of us longed for things worn and aged from a different time, history and story that could be traced in the grain of old oak and an imagining of where it had come from.
When the top was rolled up, twelve small drawers outlined the top of the desk, dropping down into other small compartments and shelving, but leaving a large surface for writing, for books, for charts and manuals that became part of his life. File drawers were stuffed with notes and articles about nutrition and biochemistry. The whole thing was chaotic and scattered, but he knew where everything was and I knew better than to ever touch anything or try to move things around. In the evening he rolled down the top and covered the whole mess as if tucking in a child for sleep. And on the workday mornings, he opened and awakened it, shuffled the papers and articles, sat with his patients, one elbow resting upon a surface that bore witness to his work and its unfolding.
It came to life before anyone had a personal computer that required space for a tower or a printer or a screen; before desks would contain those carefully placed holes for cords and phone lines. All of that came later, as the desk grew impractical for keeping up with a technology that had no respect or reverence for it’s fine lines or history. Still, the desk moved with us from office to office, the largest piece of furniture in his room, the marking and symbol of a man who created life on his terms in his unique way, without worry or concern for pleasing those around him, but instead exercised a fidelity to raw authenticity. Like the desk, larger than anything in the room, my husband, the “him” of this ode is in many ways larger than life when it comes to how he did his 37-year career.
Somewhere in August we made the decision that it was time to move on to the next chapter of our lives. Consulting work came easily to him. He had become the grey beard in the room who had something to teach those youngsters about bio-chemically based nutrition. Life now offered work from an office at home that has a different desk, one built for computer screens and printers. The tailored attire of his career would bend to a pair of sweat pants and a soft, cotton t-shirt. Here came the gentle ending to a long story, a good story. . .and the ending to the good desk, a glorious beast of a desk that dominated his office for 37 years. As the new chapter began to reveal itself, the desk was let go.
I sat in the hallway of what was once our office building when they came to get it. We had tried to sell it, only to realize that the young people in this brave new world needed and wanted the strategically placed holes for cords; the place for screens and printers; a surface that was sleek and modern. They craved Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn not the story or history as told in old oak grains in what was becoming an antique and a relic of a dated past. Significance changes with each generation, and the desk had served its purpose well. We donated it to the Hospice Thrift Store.
Two men came in on a Wednesday morning and unscrewed the top and the sides and wheeled it past me in three different pieces to what I hoped would be a new and fitting home. I wished that it would wind up with someone who would appreciate it and who would run their hands across the grain and wonder what stories the massive beast held in its still beating heart.
We grow old. Our precious things lose meaning but our purpose remains: a place to study, a place to write or to read, some corner we create to carry out these small actions of our life that grow us and hold the potential to become big when talents are shared. The old desk went down the elevator and into the truck in three pieces and I could not hold back the tenderness of a few tears for what is the closing of the curtain on a chapter well lived for both the glorious beast of a desk and a man who continues to courageously do life on his own unique terms.