The reminders keep popping up out of nowhere. I’ll be doing something completely routine and all of a sudden I’m face to face with my own mortality. Our mortality. For example, last week I attended events where legendary UT football coach Darrell Royal was being honored. He’s 87, suffering from dementia and has a sweet childlike look of wonder on his face most of the time. It seems like yesterday he was in his heyday, a mover and a shaker in both the athletic and music worlds. But his stint as the nucleus is now over and he’s been moving towards the perimeter for some time now. Whether we detect it or not, it’s happening to us all.
There are so many little reminders of how quickly time is passing. My mother died about 18 months ago and that alone has changed the way I see the world. My siblings and I visited her grave a few weeks ago and I couldn’t help but think about all the times my mother and I visited the same cemetery to put flowers on her mother’s grave. It haunts me, really. And now my sweet mom is right next to her mother. In the ground. And by all indications my generation is next, that is, unless the unthinkable happens and someone younger leaves us all too soon.
Second, I have two granddaughters and they both remind me of how the days speed by. I was an eyewitness to their births. Each of them went through the colicky stage, the bobble head stage (where they couldn’t hold their heads up) the toddler stage, and now both are potty trained and racing toward kindergarten (currently ages three and four.) They can feed themselves. They can carry on conversations. Before you know it they’ll be losing teeth, doing book reports and getting training bras. When I ask Piper, the four year old, what her favorite number is and she replies, “W,” I find myself secretly relieved. I don’t want her to know the difference yet because that’s another prominent milestone signaling the inevitable passage of time. I love hearing Haven sing off key because that means she’s still a tot. It won’t be long until she has an angelic voice like her mother, and while I’ll enjoy that it will be yet another stark reminder that my days are numbered.
But we leave pieces of ourselves behind. The other day I was going through old pictures and found one that shocked me. It was of my mom when she was a young girl, and it looked just like Piper (see below.) They even tilt their heads the same way (without any coaching) and part their hair on the same side (unintentional.) I’m amazed by the mysterious, grinding force of genetics; I get a little lift every time I catch a glimpse of my mother in the mirror, or in my children and grandchildren. When I showed this photo comparison to my daughter (Piper’s mother) she thought the one on the left (my mother) was me. It’s the genomic equivalent of a syllogism: If A = B, and B = C, then A = C. I am B, my mom was A, and Piper is C. There are alphabets and alphabets of people who came before us and will continue on after we’re gone. But we carry pieces of each other’s DNA.
A few days ago Piper came over and helped us plant our spring garden. I couldn’t help but treasure how wonderfully eager she was to help because I know it won’t be long before she’ll consider spending an afternoon with her grandparents lame. She loved digging in the dirt with Happy and was totally on top of her watering duties. We talked about the sun and the rain and how they’re both necessary to help the seedlings mature into hearty, harvestable plants. I explained that on some plants a flower will appear, signaling that a piece of zucchini or a strawberry is on its way. When they mature we’ll pick and eat them, and in many cases the plants will continue to produce “fruit” until the heat exhausts them or winter puts them to sleep. It made me think about where we are in that cycle (cue Elton John’s “Circle of Life” for a schmaltzy effect.) Piper and Haven are tiny buds, little flowers that signal their impending contributions to the world. I, on the other hand, am still somewhat ahead of the wilting curve, but am also not quite as hearty as I used to be.
We all have our moments in the sun; we also have to do our time in the shadows. I suppose when you add it all up it equals a life. Sort of reminds me of a song that was really popular when I was a preschooler (written by Pete Seeger but made famous by The Byrds) which is based on a passage in the book of Ecclesiastes:
To everything - turn, turn, turn
There is a season - turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven (Listen to “Turn, Turn, Turn” here.)
Meet “Starbeef,” Piper’s pet roly-poly.