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Archive for the ‘death’ Category

fast-forward 25 years

A link to this 25-years-from-now video time capsule just landed in my inbox, and I went over to the “In 25 Years” web site and looked at some of the sample videos.  As I did so, I actually had a mental math shutdown. I was unable to subtract 1953 from 2035, which is when the time capsule will be opened, and just as unable to add 25 to 57.  Both of those numbers would tell me the age I will be 25 years from now. But I’ve managed to face the truth, the answer is 82, and I have to wonder not only what shape this poor sweet world will be in by then, but whether I’ll still be alive to see it.

The time capsule project was thought up by a bunch of young people: a young Californian named Pearl Wible and, from the looks of the web site, a couple of her young Californian friends.  The most ambitious part of their plan is that after they’ve “sealed off” the video time capsule (which will live somewhere in the internet cloud, as near as I can tell), they will try to gather together all the contributors they can find in 2035 for a huge middle-aged reunion.

I love how some of the people talking into their webcams say things like, “Hello future me.”  Such confidence.  Such sincerity. But there’s some black humor there, too, like the young guy who says, “If you’re seeing this now, it means I didn’t drink myself to death.”

If I made a video and were talking to my 82-year-old self, I would no doubt say something different than these 25-year-olds are saying as they talk to themselves at 50.  I’m not sure what it would be, though.  Would I tell my 82-year-old self that I should have realized that my 50s were my best years?  Would I tell her that I expect she’ll have found out that things kept getting better the older I got, as I watched daily tribulations fade away and leave me with concerns only about what really mattered?   Or would I be using the time-capsule video to talk not really to my future self at all — since there’s a pretty good chance that I’ll have died by then — but to my future middle-aged daughters, to tell them how central they were to my life?  Who knows.  Maybe I would just use it, once there’s nothing left to lose, to tell all the annoying people in my 2010 life to fuck off.

In a way, we all want to know how the story of our lives will turn out.  But in a bigger way, I think, we don’t.  I love the idea of the video time capsule, to be opened in 25 years, but it’s more than I can bear to try to picture my 82-year-old self clearly enough to have a conversation with her.

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The recent release of Roger Rosenblatt’s memoir Making Toast reminds me of the first time I encountered his essay of the same title in The New Yorker.  It was December 2008, and the article blew me away.  Roger and his wife Ginny had just encountered that ultimate worst nightmare, the phone call telling you your beloved child was suddenly, inexplicably dead.   And they moved into action, almost wordlessly, to try to plug the gaping hole their daughter’s death left behind — in this case, by closing the door behind them to their house on Long Island, taking a grief-fueled drive down I-95 to Maryland, and moving in with their son-in-law Harris to help him raise his three now-motherless children.  How long are you staying? the oldest of the children, seven-year-old Jessie, asked Rosenblatt the next morning.  And he gave her an answer that has, amazingly, turned out to be true: “Forever.”

Rosenblatt basically said it all in his essay, as far as I’m concerned, and there wasn’t much that I heard in his various interviews about the book that made me yearn to read the longer version.  But the book’s publication did drive me back to the original article.  As the mother of two grown daughters (though not yet anyone’s grandmother), I was struck by one image in particular:

Ginny tells me that when I am away, and she and Harris sit down to their late dinner in the kitchen, her heart breaks for him. “This should be his wife sitting across the table,” she says.

Her heart isn’t only breaking for her son-in-law, of course; it’s breaking for herself.  She yearns for her daughter Amy, dead suddenly at the age of 38 while walking on her treadmill at home, exercise having brought on the explosion of a congenital heart defect no one had known about until it killed her.  Ginny feels the guilt any mother would feel at being alive when her daughter is dead.  And she no doubt feels an extra layer of guilt, too, to be the woman who is now taking care of her daughter’s children, the one who gets to see them grow up.

How complicated it all is.  Ginny and Roger are in so many ways acting selflessly.  But of course it’s not selfless, really; it’s what they could do because they had no other choice.  If they had had the luxury, I suspect, they would instead have screamed, cursed God, crawled into bed and pulled up the covers and permanently withdrawn.  So often I’ve wondered how parents of dead children manage to get up in the morning and put one foot in front of the other.  Usually they do it for the sake of the other children; in this case, they’re doing it for the sake of the children of the dead child.  How perverse, though, for Roger and Ginny to be there when their beloved Amy is not.

When Amy’s three children and her husband celebrated the day that would have been Amy’s 39th birthday with a cake and candles, Roger asked five-year-old Sam what he thought his mother would have wished for as she blew the candles out.  “To be alive,” said Sam.

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