When I was younger, I never thought I’d make it to the age of 30. Something in my perception of myself—that I would always be a child--made me believe that the machine of my body would expire at about 28 years old.
Imagine my surprise then, when I turned thirty. I can’t say it was entirely joyful. What am I going to do now, I thought, staring at a future I had never imagined before, a vast open prairie of age and longevity, vistas stretching through middle age and beyond.
Bobby and I have a deal, a death pact, if you will. Whoever dies first, (I always imagine this will be me) the other one must then kill himself (this role is always played by Bobby.)
It’s a fairly elaborate plan—once I’m dead, there will be a days long celebration of my life with people wearing white tunics and marigolds in their hair. There will be remembrances, singing and dancing, and occasionally the air will be pierced by great wailing. During all this, a crew builds a large structure next to the river. At the end of an appropriate length of celebration, my body will be wheeled out. The wailing increases. I’ve been wrapped in beautiful fabrics, flower petals scattered over me, a wreath upon my head, then I’m hoisted on top of the tower, there’s a stack of wood underneath with all of the random papers from my desk thrown in to make for an easy light. The wailing comes to a crescendo, and someone who’s been charged with lighting the pyre approaches. Flames spring up. At the same time, a small trampoline is brought out and placed as close to the fire as possible. The fire begins to reach up and then, Bobby runs toward the burning pyre, onto the mini trampoline and launches his body onto mine, burning himself alive with me, united in eternity, a life alone to painful to imagine.
This was what we had agreed on. I thought we had, well, if not a deal, then an understanding. But lately, he gets slippery whenever the topic comes up.
“You’re going to launch yourself onto the funeral pyre, right?”
I’ll ask, when obsessing about the end of life.
“You know you have to really hit that trampoline, right?”
“But only after an appropriate amount of keening. Have you been thinking about the keening?”
His eyes glaze over.
I like to joke that Maude from Harold and Maude had the right idea—make a plan to end it all on your 80th birthday. But this is from an earlier me—now that I’m past the half way mark, I see how the idea of aging changes as we grow, life becomes sweeter, each day and its simple pleasures become more dear. Daily meals, showers, getting in bed, going for a walk. You may not be able to do certain fabulous things from your youth but still you want to live.
Something they don’t tell you about aging when you’re young—aside from all outside appearances and how we may live in public, each life is a private affair, the struggle to maintain some sense of momentum, to not succumb to negativity, to learn to live with yourself, day in day out. Sometimes when I’m having a hard time getting out of bed, I say to myself, “Come on, now, come on, get going,” like talking to an old lawnmower, the engine is sluggish and just turns over and over.
I always bristle when people talk about how short life is--life is long. I mean, if we’re lucky. I marvel at the many chapters I’ve lived, some a weekend long, some have lasted years.
This time we find ourselves in is a test of endurance. For most of us, we’re lucky to not be in the front lines of hospitals so the test is less black and white, it’s more subtle—can you get up before noon, can you remember what you wanted to do today? Can you try to not obsess about a future that no one can predict? Can you find some joy and meaning in the day, any day, when all of the markers of life have, well if not disappeared, then shifted.
Recently, I learned the truth about Bobby’s and my death pact. We don’t have an understanding at all. Bobby’s version has me being taken to a home once I become unable to live on my own and he comes to visit me on Sundays, maybe--sometimes he misses a week because he’s got things to do so I sit in my rocker and stare out at the grass, the trees beyond.
I used to be so cavalier about my life, throwing dozens of days away just like that. Even now, I’ve been joking about death, about old age. In writing about perseverance, I’m reminded that the ability to laugh helps me endure.
The truth is, I’ve done nothing to prepare for a long life. I can’t imagine I’ll go gracefully-- I’ll cling and cry—wait, remember this? That time we went there, that time I did that, that color on the mountains, that time at the sea, those friends I did that with, that song I used to sing.
Open the curtains, I’ll cry, I long to see another shot of the long road ahead.