Reading the Signs

Years ago my mother died at the age of 83 of a stroke. A stroke is well named.  One minute you are perfectly fine, and the next you are struck down, either at death’s door or your remaining life changed forever.  Fortunately, my mother was the former.  She would not have wanted to live as an invalid.

Her stroke hit mid-morning, and I found everything exactly as she left them. Note paper, stamps, and address book were out on the kitchen table.  Rinsed breakfast dishes were on the drain board.

I picked up a popular book she was reading, “All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”  The book is a collection of essays on various topics; the one on kindergarten is simply the first.  I opened the book at random and read an eerily prophetic essay.

The author describes growing up in the city, his house in the middle of a short, dead end street, and he was always surprised how often cars would turn onto it, expecting to get through, even though it was clearly marked as a dead end, and the terminating yellow and black striped barricade could be seen from the entrance. Yet still the cars came—several times a day—driving right up to the barricade, expecting some way to get through.

As an adult, he mentioned this curiosity to a psychologist friend.  The psychologist was not at all surprised.  It’s the human tendency of denial, he explained.  We expect things to always continue as they were, even when the signs of the end are clear, whether it be a street, a job, a friendship, good health, or life itself.  We are always surprised when they end.

A reunion is a “re-union,” implying a new beginning, and often it is. But the 50th is different.  There is rarely another.  It’s an epilog at the end of a book, a very interesting book, but the end nevertheless.  Another five years will bring no new accomplishments, no new honors, no new promotions, no new children.  We will only be five years older, five years slower, five years of more health problems.

Some of us obviously struggled to get to our 50th. They pulled themselves together, put on a smile, and showed up with all the energy and sparkle they had left.  I prefer to honor that bravery, remembering them as they wanted me to, and demanding no more of them.

We are now in a stage of life much like we were in high school, except in reverse. Then we were climbing the mountain, getting bigger, stronger, smarter, more accomplished each year.  We have enjoyed the vista for a long time, and now we are coming down, each year a bit lower.

But this is not bad, really it isn’t. Coming down is only depressing if you think you are still headed up.  Coming down is a lot easier.  High school is more fun in retrospect than it ever was in reality.  Who would want to do it again?  Not me.  My wife wouldn’t let me, anyway.

As I communicate with the LAHS Class of 1956 preparing for their 50th, my advise is to enjoy it to the hilt, enjoy each classmate as if you are seeing them for the last time. 

It very likely will be.  Didn’t you see that sign back there?

About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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