Here it is, after midnight again. Where is it that the day goes? Earlier today I thought I had plenty of time for all that I wanted to accomplish. It wasn’t a long list, and yet here I am again, with so many things still undone.
This is more than a metaphor for my life, and for yours. It is the very model of it. In the weeks before Christmas or as summer ends, we comment to each other, to the people standing next to us in the grocery line, to our friends on the telephone, that we can’t believe how fast the time is passing. We marvel at children who should somehow still be six or seven years old are instead graduating from college, getting married, having a baby.
My grandmother, who lived to be 96, told me that the older you got, the faster time flew by and I see that she spoke the truth. A deeply devout woman, in the last years of her life, she was eager for it to come to a close. Her husband and her oldest son long dead, her parents, most of her brothers and sisters, the one child stillborn: all of them awaited her in heaven, and she was perplexed that she was still here among the living. Like everything eagerly anticipated, death made her wait, and wait, and wait.
The other side of that story is of my other grandmother, my Nana, who also lived nearly to her 96th birthday. Though she was not well the last few days of her life, she went right on living up to the very end. Blessed to still have her eyesight, she was a keen reader and plunged each day into whatever book had caught her fancy: lurid romances and murder mysteries and serial novels. Even if she wasn’t getting out as much, her mind was busy traveling into other worlds and when she died she left a stack of books she hadn’t gotten to yet.
When I married my husband I was 30 years old. He was 48. He was (and still is) boyish and charming and active. I was surprised that he was as old as he was; he is Chinese-American and they are graced with the kindest of aging. We laughed about what our lives would be like when we were 80, 100, 120. Our son was born when my husband was 50. Before I knew it the Beatles song “When I’m 64” didn’t seem like something so abstract. (I guess it must be pretty ironic to Paul McCartney too.)
Now he is 70. He’s an athletic, active, unbelievably young-looking 70, but 70 all the same. My mother, who is ageless, said “So what?” I have to be careful in my answer, because it applies to her too, and to myself. It’s like having a hundred dollars in your wallet, and realizing that you’ve already spent most of it. Except that with time, you can’t ever get it back again. I’ve been married 21 years. In another 21 years, with the best luck possible, my husband will be 91, and I will be 73. Shit.
What happened to that girl in the combat boots? The one of the all-night Chinese restaurants, bands nobody had ever heard of, poetry readings and Balkan Sobranies? What happened to being 26 and thinking I knew all that there was there to know? What happened to feeling like I had a pocket full of cash and the night was young? So rich with possibilities.
I went to dinner with my friend Rita on Tuesday night. We ate sushi and lingered over tea, talking about her mother who is just beginning to not always distinguish between Rita and her sister. We talked about how she used to be. I talked about not being able to shake my sadness at the sense that we are running out of time, and that the people we love are running out of time too.
One of my very closest friends sat with her husband on a cold Friday morning this January as he died. He had been seriously ill and his death was expected, but not expected so soon. Its suddenness left everyone reeling, most especially his wife and daughters. The day before I’d been with her as she bought him a book of crossword puzzles. She bought a Word Find book too, but he told her as she gave it to him that he really didn’t care for Word Find books. Earlier in the day, he’d reminded her of a bill in a drawer that still needed to be taken care of. And then he was gone.
It’s a parlor game to speculate what you would do if you knew you only had a short time to live. The truth of it is that when people discover this, they mostly just go on living their lives, bucket lists notwithstanding. Suddenly going to Morocco or driving in the Paris-Dakkar rally or meeting a dancing bear doesn’t mean a damn thing. You breathe in, you breathe out, you gather your children. Perhaps you gather your thoughts.
If I am lucky I will still be trying to finish before that one last deadline.