Sometimes in your life you can actually hear the door slam and the window open. It’s been a shattering month. Despite the pregnancy losses, mortality and the simple dividing line between living and not, was never so obvious as recently. We knew that C was dying. We’d been visiting weekly, sometimes more. We knew he was fading; indeed he’d been visibly fading in the 2 and a half years since we moved back. But the last few weeks from the hospital to the hospice to the last night–as his voice grew fainter, as he could “see” us only for minutes, then for seconds, as his breathing became more and more labored–mortality became less a concept and more a reality.
The longest time he held on “really seeing” while we visited was when he looked at my daughter’s face.
And then one night: nothing.
I’ve never had an easy relationship with my family. We’ve never understood or quite possibly been comfortable with each other. But the last two years and the especially the last two months–well I discovered , I realized that at the end of your life all you have are those whose lives you have touched in some way. That whatever the estrangement, you are stripped bare. In the end we breathe, shit and cry and hope for love, just like an infant. While I still felt apart–truly I couldn’t feel any other way–I’ve only seen his children a handful of times since 1987–I wished for his and their ease and comfort. I was sorry for all the suffering. I was glad he wasn’t alone and hoped we’d helped him know that.
I don’t know what he regretted at the end. I do know that by that point so much of my anger had fled. And I fully realized how thin the thread is that holds us all to life and to each other.
And as I scramble and claw at middle age I realize but only with the help of E’s dying grandfather and an angry 25 year old man that what has been scaring and confusing me isn’t what is actually important. It isn’t what will make the next 40 years meaningful or fill it with love and purpose. It’s so very hard to let go of how things have been and embrace how things must become. I have spent most of my life on the fringe in some way or another. Divorced parents before that was very normal, a dead parent before that was likely for most people, bookish, political, dreamy and odd. Sometimes horrendously outspoken, other times terrified. I gravitated towards others like me and reveled in the acceptance and freedom of those all dressed in black or screaming angry lyrics, or pounding poetry into the air with a vehemence most 20 year olds didn’t cultivate. And I wandered into technology, a lone female capable with a shell script or screwdriver, after being forced by money away from Chaucer’s canonical bosom. My music, the people I loved, the meaning for everything came from the fringe.
And however I might fight it, however it might terrify me–I don’t really live there anymore. We have a mortgage (now declining in value), yard work, 2 cars to take care of, pets, a nine year marriage and most importantly a young daughter. We go to PTO meetings and volunteer at her school. We’re still left of center and more Buddhist than Christian but don’t discount anyone’s beliefs, nor feel the need to chastise them. In our youth my husband and I were rebels. Now? We’re like a lot of other grown up rebels. We aren’t terribly unique. More open minded than usual perhaps, more likely to try new music or a new activity, slower to grow all the way up perhaps. Now though it becomes obvious that different isn’t so very different. Because we all grew up. And now the things that set us apart from the person next to us aren’t as important as the things that make us the same.
Once or twice a year the last 4 years I’ve ended up back in my old types of haunts or around younger, much younger, denizens of the the fringes. I’d stay up too late, get far too intense and unfortunately….become maternal. The youth and age inside me fighting for dominance. I’d have conversations I’d had repeatedly 10, 20 years ago. But as a parent now I start trying to “hear them” and “help them.” Which isn’t the point. While far younger than me, they certainly don’t require that from me. They need to push against me–not me in particular, just older adults, just people where I am, who have had experiences (like college, a career, a child) like I have had. This isn’t a bad impulse, just badly applied. I need to find an outlet for this–someplace I can do good. Some situation, where me paying attention, caring and nurturing even, is appropriate and helpful. Like it is with my daughter and her friends. As I hope it will be if I become a teacher.
So while that young man was rude and said some horrible things obviously designed to hurt me, I’m grateful he did. He didn’t prove the point he thought to–my age and experience does qualify me to decide that. However, he did show me where I don’t belong anymore and what I don’t need to be doing. Even only once or twice a year. Having an intense, soul searching conversation with a 25 year old on their turf and an intense souls searching conversation with a fellow 40 year old on your own shared territory are two wildly different things. One is the wrong thing for me to do, the other is right. It may actually be a moral question.
So, if I need to volunteer my time at high school debate tournaments, political campaigns and my daughter’s school and work at this new career of being a teacher–that is likely where my time is best spent. It is where I am supposed to be. I’ve been afraid of giving my energy to those things whole heartedly–afraid to love it all again. Why? I’m not entirely sure — I know now though that I must and will become comfortable with my age, my position as one growing into an elder who can both guide and withstand rebellion, and that I must leave behind those jaunts back into my 20s– that I’ll be embracing rather than refusing, rather than fighting–maybe I will stride towards the final destination, the final breath, and end surrounded by love, memories of my own and other’s children and how I hopefully loved and helped them. I’ll end with the knowledge I made a difference. An everlasting yea rather than a relentless denial of what comes to us all.
The door slammed closed the other night, but the window is open wide and the vista beyond welcoming, terrifying and necessary.