The mother of someone I know is dying. The fact is sad, naturally. But the situation is not unusual. One of the last lessons parents have to teach is that we are mortal. The manner of their leaving may be difficult or filled with reconciliation and letting go. Either way, their passing hints at the intimations of our own mortality. If we push the lesson aside, forget it as we might forget a lost sock, we do so for a reason or because, as Bee Wilson writes in “At Death’s Door,” there is in each of us a secret hope “that aging is something that happens to other people.” (Harper’s, 11/13, pg. 86.)
But that we age cannot be denied. The body reveals its wear with the passing years, though we may attempt to stem the tide with exercise and by eating well. Such practices do help a little. “Since 1840, life expectancy has gone up the equivalent of 15 minutes every hour. (Ibid. pg. 86) The statistic is slightly deceiving, however. What affects that number most is the decline in infant mortality, not the significant extension of life. (Ibid, pg. 87.)
We grow old. And if we are lucky, our parents help us see that being old is a privilege, a truth that youth isn’t meant to understand. But to perceive the end with the clarity of ancient eyes — to understand life’s fragility as it courses through our narrowing veins — is to be warmed by the intensity and the wonder of existence. I sometimes think the reason elders are so close to their grandchildren is that both look upon the world anew.
(First published 11/13/2013)
(Courtesy of www.addfunny.com)