The Road Ends

I wonder if anyone really truly believes this.   So easy to buy into the lie that life is like a racetrack, a seemingly endless series of laps, a delusion
fueled by a culture that worships youth and marginalizes its elders.

 

I remember rolling my eyes when my mother and her friends launched into a  litany of aches, pains and  funeral reviews. I vowed I would never allow my world to shrink so small, become so focused on myself.  I would be involved with life – would have far more important things to think about.

But to my chagrin, I find myself actively participating in these conversations with my friends nowadays. It is, after all, what is happening to us.  One more thing to add to my list of things I vowed I would never do.

What I hadn’t counted on about growing old is that nothing  stays the
same for very long.  Some days are full of hope and good fortune.  I am brimming over with gratitude for my friends, my family, my reasonably good health.  Other days it takes all the strength I can summon to put one foot in front of the other, to stay the course.

If we haven’t learned life lessons along the way, if we don’t have friends and loved ones around us, if we don’t have creative outlets that give us joy, God help us.  Because the older we get, the larger the challenges, the bigger the losses, the less we control.

Living a successful old age is hard work, in my opinion.  I need all the resources I can muster.   But no matter what my situation,  I am in charge of the path I take.  I always have choices.

And in the final analysis, it’s  not that the road ends, it’s where it ends that matters.

 

 

 

 

A Matter of Life and Death

Lately I find myself thinking about death a lot.  Not in a morbid sense, just reflecting on the reality of it.  The necessity of death for the rebirth of spring.  The triumph of spring over the desolation of winter.

I’m not afraid of death, exactly. I’m not eager for it, but it’s harder to “fit in” to the world around me now and I don’t want to outlive my expiration date.   I’m just not finished yet, there is still more to do, more to be.

This surprises me.  By now I expected to  be wise, surefooted and  content to sit placidly with a cat or two, awash in memories of a life well lived.

Guess not.  Maybe in a year or two.

 

Image by joangonzalez from Pixabay

About time.

“Nobody sees a flower – really 

      it is so small it takes time –

      we haven’t time –

      and to see takes time,

      like to have a friend takes time.”

                                                                                          Georgia O’Keefe

Not so long ago, time stretched ahead in an endless ribbon winding out of sight to unlimited possibility and opportunity.  There would always be time.  To do more, have more,  be more.  Or ..to change course.  

But the paths were one-way, constantly bifurcating.  With each decision well reasoned or impetuous, other paths and their tributaries were lost to view.   Still, there was more time, surely.  

Then inevitably, imperceptibly, my  path narrowed and led me here.  Now the path ahead is straighter.  There will be fewer opportunities, fewer choices.  Each moment counts.

 It’s time to take time. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who’s Yo GrandMama?

Visiting Grandma by Felix Schlesinger

Lately I have  become obsessed with my maternal ancestors.  Not in a genealogical sense – I really don’t care whether I am related to anyone famous or have royal blood,  and the proportion of my DNA originating in Scotland, Italy or England  is of no interest to me. So I won’t be ordering the kit

It’s not the DNA, but the lives of these women that fascinate me.   Since there was no birth control  and children were valued as workers, it was not uncommon for women to have 10 or more surviving children; most lost at least one to sickness. Moreover,  because of the physical demands on their bodies and lack of access to medical care, death in childbirth was common.  Surviving husbands in need of help with their households remarried as quickly as they could, bringing their children with them, creating small communities.   All of this in an environment facing epidemics of Yellow Fever, Tuberculosis, Typhoid Fever without antibiotics, immunizations or dentists.  And don’t forget wars.  One of my grandmothers (3rd great 1775-1824)  lost a father and brother in a Tory raid and grandsons to the Civil War.

Life was tough.  But they rose to the challenge, there was no other choice.

 

 

As I sit here in my air-conditioned living room, typing on my wireless laptop, drinking coffee from Columbia, it is almost impossible to imagine how my great grandmothers began their days.   At my age, if she lived that long, she was likely living with a daughter and her family and if healthy enough, charged with the care of the smallest children and the family mending. Breakfast would have consisted of food raised on their farm or bartered with neighbors, and depending on their economic situation, could have ranged from sausage and eggs to corn mash. There was no  radio, tv, household appliances or indoor plumbing.  Access to books was limited, often to a worn copy of The Bible  and most women never completed high school. Nearest neighbors were miles away and a letter could take a month to arrive.

Last week I had a melt-down over the internet service.  Admittedly, it was stressful, maddening, and ate up most of the day.  But really?  Internet?  This is a  problem my grandmother could only have dreamed about.

My grandmothers were hardly saints, as I well know from family stories.   I’m sure they complained about their hard lives. I could never agree with some of their beliefs, but  they were women of strong convictions and the determination and courage to stand by them.  The more  I learn more about them, the more grateful I am for their examples and humbled by the grace with which they lived their difficult lives.

So the next time I’m tempted to go rogue over some minor discomfort, I plan to stop and consider what my grandmothers’ response might be.

I hope it’s in the genes.

 

 

 

Old Love

Valentines Day.

Decadent  chocolates, diamond bracelets, elaborate valentines cards.    Young  lovers gazing  into each other’s eyes, dreaming of the perfect  love.

A beautiful reminder that in a troubled world, that somehow, somewhere, there is always  love.

But these images offer only  a shallow glimpse of  love. Oddly,  we  equate love with young love, with “being in love,”  while overlooking the most beautiful love of all, that of old love.  This  is not  the exhilarating  flush of new love.  It is  the  flame that flickers in the furious storm, yet  leaps to warm the trembling heart.

Old love has seen  glory and brokenness,  trust and  betrayal.  It has known exhilaration and endured  tedium. It has yielded to  the warm
embrace and recoiled at the jagged  word.  Through it all, it was always  love that  soothed  the chafing of the marital yoke.

The beauty of old love is not that of  the unfurling rosebud. Like the facets of a diamond, this love  is  patiently sculpted and refined over years.  It is  nurtured by the  light of understanding but  withers in the darkness of anger.  It  flourishes  on the rock of trust and crumbles on the shaky sands of deceit.

And old love is not  merely  finishing the race side by side.  Such is only a sad counterfeit born of pride, cowardice or simple inertia.  It is  a lifetime of  shared experiences, comfortable perhaps, but bereft of  joy.  The  heart well knows the difference.

Old love is longing for the other and yet  straining against the marital tether.  It is knowing everything yet nothing about the other.  It is  melding into the other yet retaining oneself.  It is  freely sharing,  families, children, sickness, possessions; all of  it, all of life.   It is unrelenting challenge; it is warm fulfillment.   It is at  once exhilarating and terrifying,

So to all  young lovers this Valentine’s Day:  Join  us if you will.  But know this:   Old love must be earned.  It will test your  strength and challenge your resolve. It will require your best and forgive your worst.   It will plumb your depths and expand your soul.  And  the rewards are beyond imagination for those who  stay the course.  

This blog is dedicated to my “old love” of 40 years.  Happy Valentines Day, Sweetheart. 

 

Why am I here?

In her latter years, my mother used to ask that a lot.  I never knew what  to say, so I usually said something trite like “We still need you here.”  At which she would click her tongue against her teeth the way she did when I disagreed with her politics.

What was she asking, I wondered.  Did she still dream of unrealized ambitions in her nineties?   I always found the question unsettling and frankly, a little annoying.

But now that there are many more birthdays behind than before me, I think I get it.  I think she was reflecting over her long life and trying to make sense of it.  And I find myself doing the same.    What has my life meant?  At the finish line, will I be able to say I have   “fought the good fight” ?    Did I miss my “calling,” my high purpose?  The olympic swimmer,  the nuns of Calcutta, the Nobel Laureate, the musical prodigy;  they had a calling, didn’t they?  A custom made life-suit,  into which they fit perfectly.   Their one true path.  Is there one for me?

In my early life, I was sure of it.    My life would be exciting, full of high purpose, awe-inspiring.   Unlike my mother’s.  Especially, not like my mother’s.

Mind you, my mother  was not a slacker. She was a strong and intelligent woman; a school teacher, an avid reader, a seamstress and amazing gardener.   She make great chicken and dumplings and rhubarb pie. She survived two husbands and lived independently for 92+ of her 93 years.

But.  She never wrote a book, climbed a mountain, ran a corporation (or a marathon)  or held public office.  For most of her life she lived in the same community.  To my impatient, arrogant 18-year-old eyes, her life looked mundane,  aimless, pointless even.  Not mine, I vowed.  I would  set goals for myself and go about achieving them.  Simple as that.

But it didn’t quite work out that way.  My path took unexpected twists and  turns.   It  didn’t  lead steadily  to a noble destination, but instead  wound  through brambles, tangled ravines and rocky boulders.  I ran, I  stumbled,  I climbed, I  tripped,  I fell and I recovered,  with varying degrees of grace.

Admittedly, on its surface,  my life looks radically different from that of my mother.  I left home at an early age, attended  universities in distant states,  managed a demanding career,  travelled the world; accumulated a modicum of recognition for my work.  But at its core,  like my mother’s, my life was made of the usual stuff;  education, career, marriage, children, retirement.   And my path, like hers, was not the work of destiny, but the result of choices.

And  my path has  led me…. here. Not to a mountaintop and not to a swamp.  As it did my mother.

It’s tempting to  fall for the “one true thing”  pitch.  The idea that  we are  entitled to  the one true love, the one perfect career, the one true happily-ever-after is very appealing.   And perhaps it is true for some.   But my life didn’t  come with a blueprint; I made choices, sometimes wisely, sometimes foolishly, that in the aggregate defined my path.  I wasn’t always sure of my choices,  and  they didn’t always lead to the mountaintop.

If I could answer my mother  now, I would reassure her that she didn’t miss her calling.  Like me, she simply made choices that led her to her destination.   And  at the end of the day, it was not our accomplishments, as my teenage self thought,  but the accumulation of our everyday thoughts and actions that defined us. Both of us.