I’m rounding the corner to my 60th birthday. That doesn’t seem as crazy old as it should. For the most part, I feel good and can do more than I could do when I was 40 and still drinking like a hydroponic zinnia. There are mornings when I surprise myself in the mirror and have a “Wow! I am getting old” moment. For the most part, I can fool myself into the belief that I don’t look my age.
I never thought about being lucky to have old parents, but the truth is that I don’t remember our parents when they were under 40. Mother was north of 35 when she had me, but she was smart and creative and skinny wiry. She was a competitive woman who didn’t let you win a game because you were a kid. If you beat her, you beat her. And she was as bad a loser as I’ve seen except for that reflection that appears when I’m blow drying my hair.
Our dad was 9 years older than Mother, a scratch golfer and natural athlete. I remember watching him jump on a horse to herd cattle for our grandmother when he was in his 50’s. He was a career educator, a high school principal. Probably hadn’t ridden a horse since he helped herd sheep in Montell 40 years before that. But he leapt on that horse without a groan or a hesitation.
So using my parents as a gauge, it’s hard to see 60 as old. I can see those sneaky little changes, though, and know that I’m not immortal. There is a shelf life on the Margaret Rose that I can’t ignore.
My daughter and niece gave me this incredible gift for my birthday. I got an email from Claire on August 13 that read:
Georgie and I have come up with a way to make the next 60 days leading up to your birthday special. The next 60 days you will be receiving a memory from the people that you have made memories with, or impacted their life. Today is the first memory, and this memory comes from your daughter.
Check your email because every morning you will be receiving a memory, for 60 days of 60 years of memories, this will celebrate the 60 years of life you have on this earth.
What an amazing gift it has been! It isn’t just the memories, it is the action of these two wonderful women who compiled and filled my inbox daily. Their gifts of time, the gifts of everyone who has sent in a memory or two or three has brought me so much joy each day. It’s also made me reflect on memories and lessons learned over the past 60 years.
I used to think God tested me. I don’t believe that God’s doing the testing. Life, however, has given me some impossible pop tests. The kind of open book tests where you just keep thumbing the pages looking for the answer. Any answer. Having survived the tests, I’ve had the opportunity to learn from the experience. Or not.
There have been times when I didn’t pay attention, heard the creepy music, forgot there might be an ax murderer in the backyard, and opened the door to see what was making the noise. DumdedumdumDUMB!
The best experience I’ve had as an adult was doing a 4th step inventory when I got sober. It gave me a chance to see how often I opened the door, willingly and with intent, to the ax murderer. Will I repeat those tests, pass them if I encounter the test material again? Maybe. Life is always inventing new material.
I tried to drown my sorrows, but the bastards learned how to swim, and now I am overwhelmed by this decent and good feeling.
I spent most of my adult life chemically altering reality. The more I drank to forget my sorrows, the more sad I got. It was when I stopped with the if only‘s and what if‘s that I could throw those bastards a life-preserver, look them in the eyes, and accept them for what they are. Reality.
I can’t ignore the pain of losing my son, Jack. That’s a real and horrible loss. Sometimes the reality bites hard. A few weeks ago when Bob’s daughter had her baby, I stood watching the baby’s daddy, a young man slightly older than Jack would be now, lovingly and carefully taking care of his new daughter. It was an emotional moment.
And it cut like a katana sword. I will never see my son do that. It took a bit to get a grip on my emotions. I didn’t have to drown the sorrow. I also didn’t have to lurk in silent misery. I know how to ask for help from sober friends, from my Higher Power. I can’t ignore the pain, but I don’t have to wallow in it. Pain is inevitable; misery is optional.
I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition. Martha Washington
When I celebrated my 40th birthday, I couldn’t see all the effort my family put into making the day wonderful. All I could see is that it wasn’t enough. At the end of the day, my husband and children fell into bed exhausted and sad. I sat alone in the little office with a glass of vodka and Peggy Lee’s Is That All There Is running through my brain.
I am not a crazy nut Pollyanna, but it helps to have an attitude of gratitude. That’s a trite saying, but I don’t drink, drug, or do any of the other things I can do to obliterate feeling if I recognize all the gifts that I have. And there are plenty. If I start now at 9:51:35 p.m. on October 10, I won’t finish listing by October 12 when I turn the magical 60. When life gets tough, I make those gratitude lists. I have enough.
It helps that I am surrounded by happy people. I have an army of family and friends who are, for the most part, glass is half full kind of people. When I look around the table at a family gathering, I will see laughter and smiles all the way around.
In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on. Robert Frost
In the weeks after my son’s death, I resented the Valentine’s Day displays that decorated stores. How could this happen? It was difficult to accept that people were shopping at malls, celebrating holidays, enjoying life. That first Christmas, I wanted to kick over every Christmas tree I saw littering Walmart and K-Mart. I didn’t. I celebrated the birth of my first grandson, born on Jack’s birthday. I made Christmas gifts and laughed with my big girl grand-daughters. I brushed my little grand-daughter’s hair and played Barbies with her. And I kept breathing.
Life goes on.
Thank God for the family and friends who have gone on the journey with me, who are continuing on the journey. You are the best gifts I have ever been given!