My second musing into the intricacies and absurdities of life is focused on age–the skirmish between years spent and years left as the hourglass empties, the verifiable number versus the mindset, the fears associated with aging, and the quantifiable worth of a life. Warning: emotions ahead.
Why, one asks, this particular rumination on an average Wednesday night? Simply, honestly, because of a conversation I had today with my Gram over Mexican food. I must say first, that this octogenarian, the matriarch of my family, does not act a day over 60. She has tirelessly carried the torch of our family through the pitfalls, successes, and sorrows, and she does so with prayer/great faith, mountains of advice, and abundant love. As she sweetly ages, sometimes the occasional repetitive story creeps into our not-as-frequent chats.
To create unity in my reverie, I also admit that this includes my nine and half month old daughter, as well as myself, who is, perhaps roughly one third of the way through this life. So, you see, my friends, we make an almost-perfect age trinity (the only thing that would make this a better comparison would be to add in my mother, making it a quartet):
1-Darcy, my “little bird,” whose jittery, fledgling wings have yet to fully expand and leave the proverbial nest to test them.
2-me, thirty-something, whose wings are tirelessly pumping against the steady and powerful headwinds, eyes focused on the horizon, but eager for what lies beyond.
3-my Gram, whose broad, but thinner, wings carry her from branch to branch, stopping a while to rest and reminisce, to survey the landscape, her keen eyes ever-angled towards the heavens.
Moving away from teenage years, 20s and into the early 30s, I borrow a thought from one of my favorite authors, who perfectly sums up my current situation:
“Thirty was so strange for me. I’ve really had to come to terms with the fact that I am now a walking and talking adult.”~C.S. Lewis~
Of course, add a few years onto that number and there I am, married to my best friend and walking through life’s challenges together. As days go by, the tiny lightning bolt gray hairs crop up (yes, I have plucked the infidels out, and yes, five more crop up in their place), the beginnings of some well-earned crow’s feet crinkling as I laugh (which I need more of as of late–laughter, that is), post-baby baggage that my sweet friend Aimee just says is my body weight “redistributing” (bless you, girl!), mortgage, diapers, and other real concerns occupying my thoughts. I am trying to beat on, my boat bearing ceaselessly into the future (F. Scott, I hope you don’t mind my adaptation of this one!).
Lately, I have found myself quietly observing my daughter, watching her discover her small world, full of giggles, bumps on the head, snuggles during moments of pain, experiencing amazing leaps in learning. Darcy has brought more joy than I could have ever imagined. She seems to me like those early explorers, unsure of whether or not the world was flat or round, but willing to risk life and limb to discover. I envy her for that ambition.
When Darcy was born, my Gram said to me that she had given her a new reason to keep on living. She cradled my tiny bundle in her arms, as the tears slowly trickled down her cheeks, whispering about the many adventures they would have. I couldn’t quite grasp it at the time, but what I realized was that this tiny new life was giving her new lease on life. My dad’s advice to me when I take pictures of the two of them is to hold onto those memories for when Darcy is my age so that I can tell her stories of her great-grandmother. Both of them melt my heart. I cherish the fact that my grandmother held me as a baby for the first time, and she was there to hold my daughter, as well.
Back to the Mexican food, our tradition since I was a young girl on my sleepover adventures to Gram and Pawpaw’s. She has been another mother to me for a number of years, and I cannot do without her. I think about relationships, and how sometimes, when obstacles get in the way, your stress makes you irritable. What she will never admit to me, but I know that there is a feeling of it, is that, as I have gotten older, my patience with her has worn almost threadbare thin. When I should be hugging her, spending free time with her, cooking, movie watching, and now letting her play with our daughter as often as she can, I often let those obstacles bury me under a mountain of excuses that lead us to mere national holidays for visits.
Over the nachos and empanadas on our shared plate, she starts talking about how nice it is that I have come to visit her, and then the phrase, one that I hoped never to hear from her, escapes her quivering lips: “… because I don’t know how long I’m going to be around.” I put down my food, looked her square in the face, smiled and told her that she will live to be at least 110yrs old, probably older than that, so she needed to quit worrying. I told myself that, too, just to ease the pang I felt in my heart. I would have you read this quote to yourself, Gram, any time you begin to worry over a number:
“To keep the heart unwrinkled, to be hopeful, kindly, cheerful, reverent–that is to triumph over old age.”~Amos Bronson Alcott~
We both quickly changed the subject, and now, she sleeps and I remain awake, in a new house that she has acquired over the last year. I admit that we all could use some time with our grandparents, if we have them. If you currently have one or a pair, find a way to go see them. Hug. Let them know you haven’t forgotten about them. Absorb their stories and commit them to memory, then pass them down to your children. Be patient with them, as they were patient with us when we were children.
Even though it seems like eons since my first years with her, I remember every smell, every sound of the old house, every time I played waitress before dinner, notepad to take orders, apron and smile. Every buttermilk biscuit, chocolate chip cookie, bowl of gumbo, graham cracker & hot tea, late night cowboy western movies; rather than keep it to myself, I have to let her know the value of her life in mine.
I firmly believe that we should never wait until that final moment, or that last hug, to let someone know that they were a safe harbor, a beacon of hope like a lighthouse to wandering ships in the night.
Rather than thinking morbidly about those remaining grains of sand in the hourglass, we should release our trepidation and embrace the unknown. I leave this rambling with one final thought:
“There is an unspeakable dawn in happy old age.”~Victor Hugo~
Every wrinkle is a memory, every gray hair a moment on our life’s timeline. Gram, tonight, I dedicate this to you, my kindred spirit.
~Kindred Spirit, looking back~