Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bitter and Sweet: the View From 50

"Everything Must Change."  That's the song on my mind of late.  It's a beautiful song, bittersweet - both mournful and reassuring.    I'm in a reflective mood tonight as I attempt to bring this blog up to date, and these words and melody help soothe the sadness I'm feeling now.  One of my favorite covers is by Karrin Allyson, whom I believe hits it just right.  Here's a link, if you'd like to hear it. 

A very rapid 15 months has passed since my last post.  Many major events have occurred since then: C-Man and I got married (as did THREE of his nieces), and we both turned 50; my daughter graduated from high school; my sister had twins, two darling little girls; my son has been accepted into the astronautical engineering program and UW and joined a frat (!); and I took part in a Gates grant-sponsored pilot program which provided adult basic education to potential auto mechanics students.   Memorable reunions and joyous celebrations dotted the calendar this year.

But much of this period has been difficult, as well.   Suffice it say I've been dealing with some serious concerns and disappointments on both personal and professional fronts.  My confidence as a parent, a teacher, and indeed as a person has been shaken hard.   Some times when I look back over my life, all I can see are the things I've done wrong.  At 50, I realize there is less time for screwing up, and no one gets a mulligan.  Most of us have come to accept that "mistakes" are part of what shapes us and takes our lives where they're supposed to go, and that everything happens for a reason, etc. etc.  I say these things all the time, and I pretty much believe them.  But there isn't a one of us who, alone with our own reflections, hasn't felt the sting of real "failure."  And it hurts.

Even so, a few weeks ago I was talking with my husband and a friend of ours about how this time of our lives is really the sweetest - the best.   We're still young and healthy enough to do the things we want to do, we're (relatively) stable financially and professionally, we're stronger and wiser, we have friends to share the past and future with, and our kids are nearly-grown, so the most strenuous part of parenting is over.  If we're lucky, we'll have grandchildren to look forward to.  This is the best it gets, on so many levels.  Right here, right now.   It's almost too beautiful.  And there's an urgency to this understanding that hadn't been there before.  I'm feeling it in my gut.  Everything seems more real as the future looms closer, along with the changes, endings, and losses that must come with it.    As the song says, "Nothing stays the same ..... There are not many things in life you can be sure of, except rain comes from the clouds, sun lights up the sky, and hummingbirds do fly."

So yes, life is a precious gift, and we have to cherish every fleeting moment.  But today there is a real melancholy in our household.  First, our sweet old dog had to be put down on Friday due to a malignant tumor.  Up to the very last minute, she was utterly devoted to us, and wanted nothing more than to be near us and included in whatever was happening.  She gave us her whole heart, and demanded very little in return.

Even worse is another death this weekend - Marian, the mother of my daughter's best friend.  Though we weren't close, I've known her for years and consider her a friend.  She had a stroke,  developed a cerebral hemorrhage, went into a coma, and died yesterday morning.  Her daughter is only 18.   When my own mother died, I felt like a shattered window.   I was 36 at the time, and now 14 years later, the pain of that loss is still palpable.   I can't imagine what it must be like to lose a mother at 18, and my heart breaks for her.

Not long ago, our beloved Uncle Johnny also passed away unexpectedly.  He was a favorite of all of us - a natural comedian and jazz musician - and one of the sweetest men you could meet. For our wedding, he did all the photography, and then surprised us with a beautifully made coffee-table book of the wedding photos. He and my Aunt Christine had been married almost 50 years, and now she must begin to navigate through life without him.

I'm having trouble wrapping my head around all this loss.  Uncle John is still down in So. Cal. with Aunt Christine, Dakota is patiently (but eagerly) awaiting her walk, and Marian is still over at her house, baking her famous banana bread and doing whatever she normally does.  But no - they are gone and we all continue on.   I think about the people I love, the people they love, and how one day we all have to say goodbye.  I don't fear death, but I dread grief.   Yes, time waits for no one, but sometimes, sometimes ... I just wish I could make it stop for a while.

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