Monday, May 01, 2006

Life is Too Short

A couple of weeks ago, my mother brought my grandmother to my house for Easter lunch. When they left, Grandma paced inch-by-inch down the sidewalk, clutching her walker, while my mom leaned on her cane and limped to the car. I walked them out and as Grandma was attempting to fold herself into the front seat while my mother stood with one hand attempting to quell the pain in her back, I quipped, "Hey! I see my future right here," and I swept my hand at the scene and said, "and I'm scared!"

They both laughed at my feeble joke, but the truth is, I wasn't joking. I bent down and lifted my grandmother's swollen foot up into the car and she winced and groaned at the pain. The hip joint has deteriorated and even that tiny movement shot searing pain up her leg and to her hip. She even said, "Oh, that hurts," which is as dramatic as she gets.

I never liked being young. I was eager to get through my teen years as quickly as possible. I didn't savor my high school years or wish that time would slow down. I could hardly stand the excruciatingly slow pace of adolescence and the walled off borders of teenage-dom. I wanted out and I wanted out yesterday.

My college years raced by, though, in a blur of longing and confusion and fretfulness. And before I knew it, I was married. My twenty-sixth birthday depressed me, but only because we had been trying to start a family and ended up caught in a maze of infertility and adoption attempts and all I wanted was to be a mother. I wanted to be a mother more than I wanted to sleep in, more than I wanted to have a career, more than I wanted chocolate chip cookies. So, when I turned twenty-six, I moped around.

But before I knew it, I was a mother (to twins!) and then, in a flash, I turned thirty. And the thirtysomething years marched on and then, what? My fortieth birthday arrived. By then, I had four children and I was trying to remember just exactly why I had been so desperate to be a mother. Okay, not really. Okay, well, not most days, only occasionally because, hello? I never get to sleep in anymore.

My dad died when he was forty-seven. So, on one hand, I am so thankful for every day of living and so aware of the alternative to aging. On the other hand, I see my mother's eyelids sagging lower and lower as if are too tired to stand up any longer. And I look at my grandmother, lingering a century on this earth, and I dread the day when my eyesight fails and darkness falls, even on a sunshiny day.

How is it fair that just as you become comfortable in your own skin, your skin gets speckled with age spots and bunches in wrinkles around your knuckles? Just when you figure out what to do with your hair, a new stripe of gray appears with a wiry texture. And even your knees betray your age with tiny purple spider veins appearing over the winter under cover of your pant legs. Aging is like receiving a package in the mail that you did not order and you cannot return.

But, oh, the alternative is to never breathe in another lilac spring day and to never watch the tulips grow taller day by day.

Life is too short. Even when you live to be a hundred, like my grandmother, life is too short to focus on the flaws, on the missing pieces, on the crooked places you wish were straight. Life is too short to not take chances, to not speak up, to not stand tall. Life is too short.

Old age will come, ready or not. In the meantime, I will sear into my memory the vision of my daughter dancing a high-step in the back yard and the faces of my boys as they carry homemade bows and arrows made of bamboo in improvised sheaths on their backs. I will appreciate my body sweating on my exercise bike and I will be mindful of the fuel I give my body. I will smile at my face in the mirror and be grateful that I can clip my own toenails. I will snip an armful of lilacs to carry into the house, even though they'll fade and die in the vase in a week and they're such a pain to clean up.

Because today, I welcome the fleeting beauty of lilacs into my home. Life is too short and soon, the lilacs will be gone. My boys will abandon the backyard for the wider world. My daughter will find better things to do than to harass the ants on a fine spring day. The neighborhood boys won't trample mud into my carpet. I'll have an uninterrupted telephone conversation and I'll think, oh, I remember when--

Act fast. Get yours now. Life is too short. Already, the tulip petals have fallen. But you can get in on the lilacs if you hurry.

13 Comments:

Anonymous Danoffire@aol.com said...

"Act fast. Get yours now. Life is too short. Already, the tulip petals have fallen. But you can get in on the lilacs if you hurry."

Brilliant! I love it!

5:25 AM  
Blogger WordsRock said...

I have discovered that watching loved ones grow old and fragile is a frantic impetus to do more with my own life.

Suzanne

5:30 AM  
Anonymous Melene said...

With what is going on in my life right now, I could have written a similar post, but not nearly as eloquent as yours. Thank you for this.

5:47 AM  
Blogger Yvonne said...

I'm speechless - that was SO good. I sometimes ponder those same things - yet not so eloquently. And the lilacs do smell so sweet, don't they?

5:48 AM  
Anonymous JGS said...

I think one of most ironic parts of becoming a parent is that watching our young children literally get and look just a bit older every day, seeing their clothes and shoes get too small, is a constant reminder that life is passing by very quickly - at precisely the moment in our lives when we want it to slow down, when we are able and want to enjoy and savor these moments with our families. That was a lovely piece. Thank you.

6:41 AM  
Blogger Traci said...

I love the way you write. I always get a great visual image with your words. My best friend's vibrant, youthful 57 yr old dad was killed in a motorcycle accident a week ago. A very raw reminder that life is short and we need to live everyday like it's our last.

9:11 AM  
Blogger Mary-LUE said...

Whenever the subject comes up of what age would you like to be again... I always say, the age I am but with my 32 year old body. Your words today are too true, sister, too true!

12:54 PM  
Blogger SuperMom said...

There are days I have to remind myself that these are the best years of my life. And I am always shocked to look in the mirror and discover I am not 17 anymore. Who is that lady? And where did all these kids come from?

Sigh.

When did that happen?

1:13 PM  
Blogger barbara curtis said...

"Aging is like receiving a package in the mail that you did not order and you cannot return."

Brilliant, Mel - you are a great writer! Some day I'll say I knew you when. . . .

Not to mention that the substance is terrific too. Just wait 'til you're 57 -sigh-

Oh, and I think in the background you should be playing 100 Years to Live. Man, I can't hear that song without crying. Do you know it?

2:51 PM  
Anonymous Deborah said...

My 20 y.o daughter has been talking about moving. My 24 y.o. son graduates from college on Sunday ... and has been talking about moving. My mom turns 66 in a couple of weeks and her health has been deteriotating of late. I am feeling and living every one of the sentiments expressed here today. Wonderful post. Wonderful message.

6:53 PM  
Blogger KMae said...

WHOA!!!! Brilliant!

10:04 PM  
Blogger Dapoppins said...

I love this:

"Life is too short. Even when you live to be a hundred, like my grandmother, life is too short to focus on the flaws, on the missing pieces, on the crooked places you wish were straight. Life is too short to not take chances, to not speak up, to not stand tall. Life is too short."

I am gonna copy it (can I have permission?) and paste it in my scrap book, or hang it on my wall, or my fridge so I be reminded not to get so strung out over the dumb things. Okay?

1:54 PM  
Blogger Krisco said...

Ah Miss Mel. You spoke my mind exactly.

I hit forty and thought so many of the same things. Exactly. You just get comfortable in your own skin, as you said, and then things start to go downhill. (Well, you didn't say that part. : )

(Oh great. Now I have tears again. I should just get a kleenex everytime before I come here....:)

8:34 PM  

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