Saturday, May 30, 2009

Where I'm Getting To

I spent today looking at people and trying to figure out how old they were. Ten or twenty years older than I am now seems a mere little hop over a drainpipe trickle, not the rolling wide Mississippi that it was a little while ago. Time collapses like an umbrella all of a sudden. Today becomes tomorrow morning before I can adequately grasp that it's afternoon.

That man with the cart ahead of mine--he moves very slowly and deliberately, fully enmeshed in his task, which is trying to lift his groceries onto the belt. He is having some trouble. But given his intense concentration, at least he is living in the moment.

The twelve-pack of individual bottles of spring water is challenging him (and me, too, because I don't understand why such things exist). It slips askew; he tries to regrip. His fingers don't seem to want to work the way they were meant to when they were given to him. They're like something not quite connected, not quite flexible, and he ends up holding the package somewhere off to the side, with his palms.

Is this me in fifteen years? I think with what feels like a startling, and very mean, smack upside the head. Shock of white hair, inability to focus on anything but the job at hand? Certainly, then, unable to swing a leg over a motorcycle, much less guide it safely (or at anything above 15 mph) down the road?

Then I'd better get busy.

A lot of living to do, quick. Suddenly, I want to throw my head back and gulp, the whole tall, sweaty glass of physicality: hike up to High Point, rocks underfoot; dance to exhaustion at a friend's party in a hillside art studio, luminaria glittering below on the path to home; hammer in the tent pegs and gather the night's tinder; dress for dinner on the patio of a restaurant with a view; touch the place where the brown hairs fleck the white ones and then join the black ones, the tenderest place on Nelly's lovely face; sway on the chairlift in a bitter wind, knowing that soon warm speed will wash me downhill; wear the gold sandals; unfurl three contiguous maps and look at them for a long time, make lists of what goes into the saddlebags, then early one morning put the key in and go; ride. Do a lot of riding. If all this is a midlife crisis, I don't care. I call it coming back to life.

Recently one of my friends on a social networking site that shall remain nameless mused on how ("at my age!") he was starting to feel the urge for a motorcycle. He was soliciting opinions; wanted to hear from anyone who'd ever crashed. One friend posted about the two times she'd dropped her bike; another one wrote about someone he knows who's now an amputee. Many, many people wrote to express alarm: "Don't do it!" they pleaded. I weighed in on the opposing side: "1. Yes, do it! but 2. Do it only with training, training, and more training, so you can be in the group that is underrepresented in accident statistics." Unfortunately, my comment appeared just below one that tersely said, "My son-in-law was killed on a motorcycle."

I felt awful. And then came my trip to the shopping plaza, where I went shopping for a glimpse of the future. Which would be worse? Deciding that, since so many of these intense flavors will be untastable in a short while, I should decline them now? Or taking the risk that I might not get all the way to 75 and custom-made orthopedic shoes if I drink that whole glass?

Maybe I wouldn't reach 75 anyway, all my efforts to preserve this web of blood, bone, tissue blown to powder one day in a surgeon's office.

And what is so great about 75, I'd like to know?

I do not have a death wish. I have a life wish, one so strong that it requires me to scoot a little closer to the silent but breathing hulk of death's form; I reach out and take his hand in the dark. We are together in this, not like friends, not like lovers, but like parts of the same self. It's the life wish that makes you want to open wide every sense, go screaming into the air, waving wildly to your partner, he who is The End, as you go. It's the death wish that makes you slow down to an acceptable speed for someone your age, comparison-shop for walkers and canes, resolutely denying the existence of the quiet watcher. He who is going to get you, sometime. Not to be morbid or anything.


tina said...

just take immediate care of every goddamn little thing that goes wrong with you. I lived for 25 years with something slight wrong with a hip joint. Now I'm 54 and it was not slight anymore, so I went to the orthopedist. All fixed, with a stupid little insert in my left shoe and some dorky exercises. But I haven't felt like this, backwise, since I was 25. A word to the wise. Don't let things go.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

If that isn't a word to the wise, I don't know what is. Enjoy your newfound youth!

ren said...

Live now. There is only ever now. Live in it. Do what you want *now* to be able to then think to yourself, when you are that decrepit 80-year-old, wow! I did that! instead of, fuck, I can't do that now, shouldacouldawoulda!

Now is all the time there ever is.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

" . . . But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
. . .
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.
. . .
Now let us sport us while we may;
. . .
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run."

No one ever said it better, or more convincingly, than Andrew Marvell in "To His Coy Mistress." Seconded by Ren.

Bill Jensen - Loveland, Colo. said...

115 mph just yesterday.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Congratulations! You just added a decade to your life, Bill.

saltyvic said...

when your number is up its up, you could miss out on a truck load of fun on the off chance that you could have "the bad one today" i say keep your wrist twisted

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Yeah, lately I've been hearing about too many people getting nailed while sitting in their LaZBoys. Not the way to go for me, I think. Or for you.

Chel_in_IL said...

Ahh.. La-Z-Boy, just the way my oldest brother went, just a few months ago after having enjoyed his motorcycle only once after a long winter's hibernation.

While it was more acceptable to his family than having given his life while motorcycling, I feel in a way that I would rather die doing something I love than to let death take me in my sleep.

Just finishing your book, "The Perfect Vehicle." Had I a literary flair I would have written it first. :)

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Chel, what a sad story--I'm really sorry. Yes, it is a bit easier to blame a bike than an easy chair. But since something is going to get us all in the end, I must say I'd prefer that something to be beautiful, and fast, and feel good right up to the last moment.

The more I think about it, the more I believe us humans simply cannot wrap our brains around our mortality. Whether we're attempting to stay safe, or we're in denial about risk. Either way, it's big, it's scary, and it's very, very sad.

Thank you for reading!