I flew down to Florida to visit my folks this past weekend. I feel very lucky that I can still do that. No, not my ability to fly; although not long after 9-11 there was a little incident that almost got me on a no fly list. Luckily my wife physically put her hand over my mouth before I could get into too much trouble. Things were tense at the airport with new security measures being rushed in place at the same time American Airlines filed bankruptcy laying off 13,000 union workers.
Despite leaving our house two hours before take-off, we had just missed a 7:00am flight due to an airport parking lot closure, wrong directions from the ticketing desk agent and a last minute terminal change. Instead of helping us get on another flight the gate attendant blankly looked at me when I explained what happened and asked me if I “was going to take responsibility for anything in my life?” Now it did not help that I sorta looked like a confused terrorist on my rather near expired old Florida driver’s license photo from a decade before. We learned later the whole time the woman was lecturing me she was also typing some not flattering things about me into the system. But we did eventually get where we were going and the long version is a tale for another day.
I feel lucky about flying to see my folks because a lot of my peers have already lost their parents. And I don’t mean the kind of ‘lost’ where they’re traveling somewhere in Europe and we have no clue exactly where they are or when in fear of damaging your own sanity you speed away from the slack-jawed freaks at the Wal-Mart forgetting your wandering parent killing time torturing the clerk in the Garden Department ‘lost’ or even the we have been bickering over something stupid and are not talking this month ‘lost’. No, I’m referring to the BIG ugly forever ‘lost’. The one typically preceded by a mortifying soul-crushing health decline before the inevitable horrid traumatic opposite of birth, extremely final ‘lost’.
Time is a funny thing and no matter how much of it you have, it’s never enough. My parent’s are both inching very close to 90. They are still full of vigor, stories and opinions that I seem to never grow tired of… but that might be because I live on the other side of the country. It’s tough being so far away, only able to visit for a day here and there, but maybe that is why I love being around them so much when I am in town. That also might be why they appreciate me so much when I visit. Taken in small doses I do tend to be better liked and far less annoying. I have always used the ‘fish’ rule when visiting people. It’s always pleasant to have fresh fish for dinner but you don’t want it sitting around for days and days. The longer its there, the worse it stinks.
It’s always a little bit of an emotional head trip to visit them. In my brain they still look the way they did when I was growing up. Dad might look great for someone 89 but someone 89 does not look like a 50 year old. That said, it must be equally hard for them to see their youngest son bald, gray and in his fifties. I assume I am a bratty little boy in their mental image of me.
As a little kid, time moved so slow I’d complain to my Mom I was bored and had nothing to do. Back then, 20 years old seemed very adult and mature. When I finally actually hit 20, my thirties seemed as way, way distant and unfathomable as walking on Mars. At 30 I had the perspective to realize how much I did not know at 20 but still felt very much like I was in the midst of the first half of this thing called a lifetime. Now in my fifties I often feel like I’ve passed the slow and steady first-half hike up the hill. Like I’m over the hump of the mountain peak where time suddenly speeds up. Life now feels like a rolling boulder gaining speed as it careens faster and faster almost uncontrollably down the far side of the Mountain of Life. The path is fairly set and hard to change and the unpleasant final crash at the bottom appears to be getting closer and closer.
When you hear about people you knew in school dying of natural causes it tweeks that mortality trigger in your brain. I realize I now have thoughts about travels and adventures I want to share with my wife before it’s too late. Before ‘lost’ comes into the equation. Marketers might try to convince us that 50 is the new 40, but I think any Actuary would confirm that 50 is, well… 50. So unless modern science can figure out how to modify Professor Peabody’s Way Back Machine to reverse someone’s age, on average I have about 25 years left to pack an awful lot of living into. I mean, if that life expediency average holds true, at that rate if I only go to Vegas twice a year till I die, that is only 50 more trips. That’s not enough?!?!
It feels like lately almost every long conversation with friends or family eventually turns to illnesses and executors or diseases and plots. It was not always that way although I do recall one particular conversation with my Mom when I was in High School and she was close to my current age. Her Mother had recently passed away and she was obviously feeling the pains of loss and mortality. She said, the oddest thing about growing older is that your head does not change. Your body ages and grows weaker but forgets to tell your brain. Your mind still acts the same way. I have since learned first hand that she was right. But unfortunately even worse, the mind does sometimes fail, but it does not see that either.
One of my brothers passed away a year or so ago. I find time has not really lessened the pain of that. The odd thing is, if I see a photo of him from awhile ago it makes me smile but when I see any from his last year I tear up. It’s like my brain is comfortable seeing him before he got so ill but just wants to avoid that whole nasty patch at the end. While seeing my folks this past weekend, I also spent time with my sister too. At one point she whispered a pretty dark gallows humor joke to me about my brother. It was VERY funny and in VERY bad taste. Sometimes it’s a good thing that my Mother’s hearing is going; none of us is too old for the swat in the head she would have given us had she heard.
My Sister and I reminded each other that just minutes after my brother’s interment, I asked my other siblings if it was still OK to still playfully tease him like we always had. We all very quickly answered yes as we would definitely want that to continue if any of us had passed.
I do not think there is enough time for me to ever really get over my brother. I don’t think there will ever be enough time that I get with my parents. I know a 40 hour visit feels like it is not enough time. But I do know when it comes to time, no matter how much it seems to warp and bend, I have no control over it.