Monday, October 19, 2009
Getting Older is Crazy
((Warning: This is not really about perfume.))
I just saw today on Facebook that there was a memorial event being held for a girl I went to high school with. Clicking the link, I came to find out that she had been married, had three lovely children, and passed away four years ago due to heart complications. I tried googling for an obit, but couldn’t find one. Apparently it was too long ago and such entries are long since archived into the black hole of cyberspace, just like my dad’s. Going through the RSVPs for the memorial event, I saw the names and faces of so many people I had all but forgotten existed. Some I wouldn’t recognize on the street. Others were the same as they were when they had the locker next to mine in the 6th grade.
Where does the time go?
Technology has changed the way we think of the people in our current and former lives so much. Losing people in my mother’s time meant you never knew what happened to them and they existed as no more than the vague and wispy memory invoked by those yearbook photos, forever glowing with youthful beauty and health. Now I see them across this virtual space, with their lives and spouses and children and successes and failures, and it’s what I imagine would happen if, while walking on one of two roads diverging in a yellow wood, one looked over and was startled to see the road not taken and all those traveling along it through a sudden break in the trees. People grow older. People die. They become what they planned. They become what they never expected. Priorities change; old pettiness fades til only sweetness remains.
I told someone yesterday that I sometimes feel like the emotional equivalent of Benjamin Button. Born into a hard, callous, scary world, I took a dim view of people and the relationships and choices that defined them. I never trusted anyone. But as I get older, despite all the terrible things I know and see and cannot look away from in the world today, I actually find myself more hopeful. Less cynical. More willing to trust, to forgive, to believe. The world has its rough-hewn edges, but it can also be magical in its innocence, its willingness to keep trying, to display a little kindness, a little compassion, a little love. I used to hate Lake Wobegon, where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” I found Garrison Keillor’s voice and his small sweet stories about nothing a gratingly calm acceptance of the ideal in a world that was otherwise. Those stories seemed weak in their lack of the darkness of the real. But when I listen to them now I find myself looking back at my own life, and I now think we all are former residents of Lake Wobegon, and that the places and people who live on, sweetly, in our memories and our hearts, are all former residents with us.
So wherever you are on your path, sweet stranger or friend, my prairie home companions, know that I take you with me. As we peer at each other through the old growth trees and underbrush, momentarily pushed aside, though I do not know you and perhaps never did, I wish you well all the same. As we once sang in youthful voices, may the Lord bless you and keep you as you go along your way. And of course, bring you peace.
(Incidentally, I suspect the residents of Wobegon all get their perfumes and colognes, all sex and gender identity appropriate, as gifts wrapped in paper with chicks and ducks and surreys with fringe on top on them, from the local drugstore. And I suspect they all smell wonderful.)
Image from National Geographic.