The Mud, the Muck

I saw a sign in my travels recently. It was propped up against a mailbox post in front of a farm. Some of the words had faded, but it listed the things that were for sale: piglets and pork chops.

A span of a life right there, I thought to myself. Piglet to pork chops in the blink of an eye.

For the first time this spring I've noticed how my friends are getting gray hair. In some cases it's the first thing that I see when I encounter one of my people. It could be that us ladies reach a point where we no longer care about coloring our hair or maybe we're sick of the process, the cost. Maybe we're ready for the gray to take over.

Maybe we're so settled into our skin, so beyond trying to impress the world, so no longer willing to pretend that the thing that's happening isn't happening that we're letting the gray have its day. 

Mine is coming in really slowly. It's frustrating, actually. I want the gray head of hair. I have a photo of my mom taken about the time when she was the age I am now and she's got this terrific patch of gray hair. For her it was like, bam! Gray Is Here!

I don't know. I'm a little fixated on it.

"Why is it that everyone always wants what they don't have?" my sweet hospice person said in her tiny voice from beneath the covers on her big bed in her living room where she now lives all her days, unable to go outside or even down the hall anymore. She can't go into the kitchen and get herself a glass of milk when she wants one. She's waiting to die. 

I do not take these utterances lightly. The things that come from the mouths of the dying hold weight and meaning. When you're dying there is no point in small talk and clarity often comes with the disease that is going to kill you. You know what you want and what you don't want; you know what matters and what doesn't, You don't have time anymore for the things that don't matter. 

I am feeling it, the changing of the tide, the growing and leaving of the kids, the graying of the hair. I am feeling it. 

But I'm still here and all of my limbs work and as far as I know no disease is taking me away. Not today, anyway.

"How old are you?" he asked me from his hospice chair the other day. "I'll be 53 on Saturday," I told him. 

He wished me a happy birthday and then told me the story of how he had celebrated a birthday recently. He was pleased because it had been a good birthday.

He lives alone, in difficult circumstances, and he is dying at a young age. 

"What made it so special?" I asked. 

"Lots of people sent me cards," he said. "They remembered me."

His friends, his relations, his people remembered him on his birthday. It didn't surprise me because in the short time I've known him he's made an impact on my heart. But it surprised him, that people cared enough to send him a card on his birthday.

I think that there is a lot of fear around the dying process: fear of the unknown, fear of the pain. But the greatest fear that confronts those whose lives are winding down is the fear that their life will not be remembered, that it was all for naught. That they have done nothing of lasting worth or meaning.

Of course, it's a silly thought, everyone, given any stretch of time here, has an impact. Even the very worst, most miserable of human beings had their moments of kindness and love. Most of us have decades of it, in one way or another, helping others, raising kids, giving back, joining groups. Everyone, by the time they die, has touched a life in one way or another. 

Still, we worry that we will be forgotten. Here, and then gone. Piglet to pork chop before we have the chance to get it right.

And maybe we will be forgotten. The attention spans of people seem to be shortening exponentially. The explosion of the world wide web and televisionization of everything have created an insatiable desire for new information and more information. Maybe our brains can handle only so much.

I doubt it. We forget things like what we had for breakfast or what books Tom Wolf wrote or what time we're supposed to be at the dentist's, but we don't forget our fourth grade teacher, who taught us to love reading, or our high school tennis coach, who modeled grace in losing. We don't forget our best friend from second grade or her mom, either; we never forget the first person we fell in love with or the boy who broke our heart when we were nineteen. We may not have seen our best friend from college in a few years, but we still recall all the fun we had together, then later how our kids played together as toddlers, now how we are watching all of them leave the nest. The person we love might be far away, but the love we have together doesn't fade.

We forget times, places, names, cities, classes we took, books we read. We forget where our keys are and whether or not the dog has been fed, but we don't forget each other. 

 The Sam, his face.

The Sam, his face.

Sometimes I find myself studying the faces of the people I love, wanting never to forget the nuances, the curves, the lines and bumps, the color of their hair and eyes, the shape of their lips. I want to be able to recall, when they are not with me, the way they look. I saw a boy get off a bus the other day and I watched him walk down the street toward my car and his gait reminded me of my son Sam and the unique way he moves through this world. It made me miss Sam at that high school age. It made me wish he lived closer so I could see him.

I will be 53 on Saturday; my life is way more than half over. I have lived more than I am going to live. What a strange realization. I often wonder what my obituary will read like or if people will come to my memorial service and if they do, what they'll say. We all seem, so often, to be surprised to learn that we matter, that people notice the things we do, that we are loved.

We do; they do; we are.

Piglets to pork chops in the blink of an eye, or so it often feels. In-between, the mud, the muck, the joy, a life. Amen.