WHAT LIES AHEAD
Remember that Seinfeld episode when Elaine went to Florida to visit Jerry’s parents and she slept in the guest room? The room was so hot she could barely breathe? This is what it is like sometimes at my grandparent’s house, I call it the hermetically sealed room. It is so frickin hot that I have to keep the slider door open to get some fresh air, the fan on full blast and a scant sheet on my naked body. Their house has been like this since before the Seinfeld episode came out, but that particular one gave it a voice and added a layer of humor that is always front and center anytime I go for a visit. In addition to this, when a door is left open in the house, a blaring blinking red light on the security that is in each bedroom in the direct view from the bed disrupts my ability to calmly enter the state of zen sleep so I have to get a piece of masking tape and about 6 napkins to tape over it to block its digital dilemma. The other security feature in the house is that every time you open a door, the door beeps in the whole house so the peacefully sleeping can go on high alert that there may be an intruder entering the triple locked door in the double gated community. I actually think that Seinfeld came to this neighborhood to visit someone and this is where he conjured up the whole episode. It makes me laugh in one way, but being with my grandfather after his 100th birthday celebration this week in particular, I can see the potential concern of all of this.
First off he tends to run cold so to have the ac on a low temperature would cause a chill that is not necessary. His blood is surely thinner, he is 100. He doesn’t get much exercise because he needs a walker to get around and getting up and down from the automatic recliner is about as much exercise as he gets in a day. He is also getting a little more frail, shorter for sure as he has to hunch slightly causing his six foot frame to look closer to my height of 5’7 these days. He sleeps a lot more surely, but he still has his two glasses of wine at five every night. He still has his dessert every night after dinner. He still bosses his caretakers around with that authoritative tone that commands attention like no other. But he just seems so vulnerable and this creates a new view for me of the man I love. That vulnerability, the winding down to the Now What?
We just made it to our goal of 100, the party, the planning, the speeches, the guests, the dinner, and I am watching my mentor wind down. To watch someone who has such a strong presence even in his silence, who has been my own personal commander in chief question his time left is certainly a humbling view. I have no idea what it would be like to be in the chair of my 100th year. The thoughts must be from that of a waiting perspective. I mean the pragmatism of reaching 100 years knowing your life well lived is behind you must startle your imagination.
At fifty two I am in the luxury box with the privilege of the window seat still deciding my future. My son at almost twenty has a first class view, as the world ahead is his oyster. I am in the place of thinking how many more years do I want to own my own business and where do I want to live? Do I want to stay in my little New England town or does the sun and beach and year round sundress and flip flop weather call me like the first warm beach day in Rhode Island? I am in the jumping off point. My son is in the jumping in point.
My grandparents moved year round to Florida when they were 66. They sold their home, the childhood home of my father and my aunt and uncle. Little did they know they would have over thirty more years ahead of them together in Florida. I love the idea of starting an entire next phase in a totally different environment. This is huge shift for me as I always thought I would buy a home and it would be the go to place for my son, maybe his family at some point way down the road. I saw my future grandchildren going into my pantry and playing with the turquoise phone and my vintage canister collection and looking through my art supplies to create something. I saw myself in my garden with a great big hat, cutting my herb garden and talking to anyone who walks by after living in my neighborhood for over a quarter of a century. Stability and consistency of a permanent address has been my personal mission for my son so he would understand that stability. Especially after my husband and I split up, this took on a new significance because I remember the upheaval in my young life of my mother always moving. My thought was that she was always trying to find that grounded feeling of personal satisfaction leaving my brother and I in its chaotic wake. The moving was the carrot that something better and happier could be found over there. Just like the notion that divorce doesn’t have to be as awful as my parents’ divorce was, staying put in a home just to prove that moving isn’t the answer to happiness is a belief system I am willing to release.
It is not true for my own life. I am happy. I have made constructive choices and have reaped the rewards because of the personal work I continue to do. I think I have hung on to the narrative of my life thinking that I have control. I have no control. No one really does. We don’t know if there will be a tomorrow or if in even ten years I will have my health. This is the pragmatic part of my life I owe to my grandfather. The emotional fantasy of my future lives and breathes in my contemplation of how I see it. But in all reality, my grandfather’s very rich life and I don’t mean the financial piece of it, but the actual meat of his life has been the compass in my reflection of these expectations of my future. If I lived to his life point, I have almost an entire full life ahead. If I only get the privilege to live to my father’s age, I have fifteen years. The potential span is immense and certainly we caught it early twice breast cancer is the now 36D in the room.
What I have realized on this most recent trip to my favorite spot in sunny Florida is that I could actually for the first time see myself down here more than a week. Certainly not for a full time spot, but definitely for at least a month. This is a new and surprising moment for me because it means that I feel secure enough in my own sense of self and this ultimately is my home. Home is me; home is where I am at any given time. Not in my address and my framed art on my newly painted walls. Sure I need this to put my head down at night and I am most grateful that I get to call my physical home the place I reside in, but where I live is secondary to how I live. This is what I learned from my 100 year old grandfather as I watch him consider his likely short future ahead and his very long life behind. If we only have 100 years and a little more then three quarters of them are the healthy ones, then how is it that we ever find ourselves living less than a completely fulfilling life? I am fulfilled and I like the notion of a change of scenery too. I have talked about an airstream, but that feels too mobile. I like the grounding of a space, an apartment in a downtown area or on the beach. The airstream is more about my twenty year old hippie self. I like a bathroom and a good shower and my kitchen tools. As I write this piece this early morning the day after celebrating Thanksgiving with my 100 year old grandfather, I am in the fortunate place of waiting for the sun to peak out so I can get to the beach and read my second book of the week. What lies ahead is as glorious for me as what has already come before. This to me is good fortune coupled with a grateful life and the knowing that I indeed have any choice I want because I believe this to be so.