My late husband and I were a few of the fortunate people who could say they were born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. We both grew up in a suburban town just a few miles south of San Francisco and saying that we took it for granted is an understatement. I grew up in a house on a hill that had views of the bay, the mountains, and everything else that made up the beauty of the Bay Area. Little did I know as I looked out our bay window in the kitchen while growing up how much the area would boom in the years to come.
I remember the first dot com boom in the mid to late 90s. Property values skyrocketed and to this day I still can’t believe people were paying close to one million dollars for a 50-year old house that was only 1,000 sq. ft. We lived through the housing crisis and today I am witness to the massive gentrification that is taking over the entire area. I know I can speak for those who are Bay Area natives when I say there is a sometimes a territorial attitude we exude that is a result of all of the transplants from other parts of the nation and world who flock to share a piece of what we’ve always known and loved. We also have a reluctance to admit that nothing stays the same and we try to hang onto what was and not what is now. It’s hard to embrace change when you have to plan a trip across town because what took 10 minutes now takes a half hour because of constant gridlock everywhere you go.
My husband commuted about 30 miles to work each way every single day. What should have been a simple 35-minute drive to the city was usually about an hour for him because of traffic (and that was at 5am). I remember the conversations he and I used to have when he would get home. He would always tell me how much downtown San Francisco was changing (and not in a good way in his eyes). He said that nobody looked up from their phones anymore and when you tried to strike up a simple conversation with someone they would look at you like you were on another planet. He mentioned people walking in office building lobbies in their bare feet, toting their dogs into work in one hand, and an open bottle of beer in the other. We joked about man buns, ripped jeans at work and this crazy sense of entitlement many “millennials” had in the workplace. Our simple city was changing, and he didn’t like it one bit.
I remember him saying to me, “I feel like I don’t exist anymore.” After he died, I found myself reflecting on this particular conversation and wondered to myself, “How could someone with so much life think he didn’t exist?” I am grateful that I made sure to always tell him how much he existed to me and how much he existed to others.
Since my husband died I continue to enjoy stories that old friends tell me about him. What I have noticed is there is a pattern of the same comments over and over: “He lit up a room when he walked in.” “He changed the mood for the better when he was around.” “He was larger than life.” “He made every person he talked to feel like they mattered.” I always talk about how he made me a better person, and since his passing I continuously live my life the way he would want me to.
I have a lot of guilt about how he always complained to me how much I was on my phone when he was around. He would tell me that sometimes he felt like he didn’t exist to me because I was so ingrained into my emails, texts or caring more about my social media posts than talking to him. I remember one night when we were at dinner he asked me to look over at a couple who were both on their phones. He asked me if I thought they looked silly and I said, “Yes they don’t look like they’re enjoying one another.” He said to me, “Exactly. That’s what I see when I look at you when you’re on your phone while we’re together.” I always made an effort after that conversation to put my phone away when we were at dinner or we were together because I knew how much he despised the digital era. He always told me he would have thrown his phone away if he hadn’t needed it for work.
My husband dreamed about a simpler life for us. We always talked about moving to the country or to a house on a lake where we could get away from the rat race and just enjoy the simplicity. Even though I am heartbroken about his passing, I think about him living a simpler life now and that makes me smile often. Here is a picture of him on a fly fishing trip in Wyoming (the country was his happy place):
After his passing I observed people’s behaviors more and more. I noticed that I started feeling like I didn’t exist because our society keeps to themselves now. The next time you’re in line for coffee, or in a crowd, take notice of how many people aren’t interacting with one another. I now make it a point to put my phone away when I order coffee or I’m with friends (always look people in the eye when you are talking to them). Make someone feel like they exist. It’s amazing how looking someone in the eye and acknowledging them can make them feel like they matter. Just another gift of many he continues to give me every single day of my life.