The first day of Spring, the REAL first day of Spring — not the one that the calendars specify — is the one where you can finally open all the windows in your place and LEAVE them open for a few hours… the day when all the stale air of winter is flushed out of the system, the day when you can sit in your comfortable place, and close your eyes, and feel Spring herself wash over you.
That day was yesterday. As you get past fifty and the milestones become more and more painful to mark — for at a certain point they begin to mark off far more losses than beginnings — each “first day of Spring” seems more precious than the one before it, and the sense of overwhelming relief at having made it, once again, through the Dark Time, comes with an edge of unavoidable sadness.
So I was in a wistful mood already this morning when a distressing email came through from my Dad. “Things are not going too well here. I am declining despite everyone's efforts.”
At least a part of why this is so frustrating is that I don’t know whether or not I can believe him, or how far I can believe him. My Dad has been “crying wolf” for some time now on the subject of his own Old Age, even to the point of an email sent more than a year ago in which he declared, flat-out, and I quote, “I am dying!”
Four months later, he visited me and was in great health. My house is full of stairs, and he not only handled them beautifully, but seemed to thrive on it. The actual traveling part was considerably easier for him than for his wife who is at least fifteen years his junior. He was fine; he was great. Old, yes. Not the man that he once was, but doing terrifically well for someone in his late eighties, and in no way on Death’s Doorstep.
So what am I to believe in what he tells me? When I talk to him on the phone, he sounds as strong as ever; but that could be as unreliable as his sense of Personal Melodrama (something I inherited from him).
All of this weighed me down this morning. Whether he exaggerates or not, the fact remains that every single one of us on this earth, no matter our age or health, is five minutes away from Death. Whether you’re eighteen or eighty, if you leave the house at the wrong time or even just start down the back stairs with your weight on the wrong foot, it could be all over for you in nothing flat.
Thinking about my Dad’s old age invariably leads to thinking about the dismal prospect of my own. With Dad gone, I will have only my two surviving pussyquats and a small handful of old friends who see each other on fewer and sadder occasions every year. As an aging Gomez, finding my Morticia at this time of my life seems increasingly unlikely. So I only have to outlive my beloved little Honey pussyquat. When she’s gone… well, first I will have to decide whether I am going to somehow survive that blow and move on, or simply drink myself to death in my current home, surrounded by memories.
I have thought: I could sell everything and move to Europe… live out my declining years in a little town in Scotland or Wales. I have also thought: I could sell the house and some of what’s in it, and move out to the Southwest, where I would never be troubled by Winter again.
But then I start wandering the house, looking at the past laid out before me. I start to ask, what would I sell, what could I sell, to make a move like that practical. And I know what I have known all my life, that things are not just things as some people would have it. Things contain memories. Things contain your life. Things have power. To divest myself of my surroundings would be like hacking off aspects of myself, parts of my life, and tossing them in the dustbin.
Then I realized, or remembered, or something, this: my Dad and his wife have moved several times since they were my age. My grandparents on my mother’s side moved at least once in their sixties. Here’s the thing that I think made it possible: they all knew where they were going before they had to close out and make the final decisions on what they were leaving behind.
This seems a very valuable bit of advice: know what’s ahead before you cut off what’s behind.
Right now, all I’ve got is questions; and even the information I have about the present seems unreliable. What I know is this: Spring is here. The windows are open. The air in the house is fresh and clean and cool. Enjoy it: because it won’t last.