Upstream. A Mohawk Valley Blogzine.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Midlife: A Personal Essay

So your mother dies and you think that being orphaned at age 46 won’t hurt, but it does--hurts more than when your father died twenty years earlier--and now the link between you and the past is broken and you are now the past to which your children cling, the anchor at the end of the chain of time, and it frightens you because you know that you are not forged from the same iron your parents were.

And then your son gets expelled from a small but prestigious college for being too liberal in his views, and after two months of letters, phone calls and mustering up the best arguments for his reinstatement, you realize that the school officials aren’t even making an attempt to rebut them. Come hell or high water, they have already made up their minds and are not about to be confused by the facts.

And then your wife takes sick. The surgeons cut out half her insides along with the cancer, and you are scared she is going to die and for a whole year you watch her lay in bed fighting fatigue and nausea.

Then ten days after he graduates from high school, your nephew goes up on top of a mountain in Kentucky and scatters his brains to the four winds.

And then your teenaged daughter starts to have problems and the county comes along and says “we can do a better job than you.” So they ship her to a children’s warehouse in Schenectady where most of the day she is looked after by Rent-A-Moms and Rent-A-Dads whose only qualifications for the job are a high school diploma and a driver’s license. They tell you she will be safe there. They don’t tell you that there are adolescent sex offenders housed in the same building. When you find out, you fear for your daughter’s safety and soon your fears are realized.

By now you are ready to crawl into the woods where wounded deer go to die, and just lay there until you fall fast asleep, fall full circle into your parents arms, but something keeps you from doing it.

It’s not a psychologist who stops you, nor a psychiatrist, nor anyone else who sees all depression as mental illness--professionals who don’t consider that a boxcar load of Zoloft attached to the trains going to Dachau would not have made a difference to the people there--that sometimes depression is the only appropriate response to the circumstances of life.

No, it isn’t always a counselor or pills or some major miracle that keeps you from quitting.. It is often little things and little people that make life worth living when your existence hovers somewhere between the anvil of adversity and the hammer of God.

Like when you go to Grandma Millie’s in Johnstown for some coffee and see a young woman sitting at a table by herself reading War And Peace. She is like the lone trillium you found growing out behind your house, among all the brush and debris, and you circled it with logs so you would know where it was and wouldn’t step on it and crush it.

And you go to buy books from an 87 year old man in Gloversville, and he shows you his flight log from World War Two. And you feel honored to have seen it. Then his wife interrupts your conversation to say she is going out to look at her lilac bush, and she says the word “look” in such a way that you know she means she is not going out to check on it, she is really going out just to look at it

There is something moving about this old man showing you his log book and telling you he is selling you his books because his children have no interest in them or in history. And it’s equally moving to watch this old lady, in the dusk of life, the street lights having come on many years before, tottering out to look at her lilac bush.

Then there is your minister who checks on you regularly. And you know how busy he is, and how he must get discouraged sometimes, only having a small congregation. Yet he has stayed in the same church for twenty-eight years. He could have used the church as a rung up to a bigger church in a bigger town, but he stays because he believes that his work is a calling not a career. And the two oil paintings from his wife, a quiet, gifted artist, cheer your house in a way that a Rembrandt or Picasso couldn’t.

And so you realize that the painful present does not really exist--just as you reach out to grasp it, it slips into the past--and that life is only memories of what was and the prospect of what is to come, and so you put your hand back on the plough and aim for the end of the row and hope that when you look back you will see a straight furrow.


  • Beautiful!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:17 AM  

  • I have returned to re-read this a couple of times, for this post has stayed in my thoughts. Well done. Thanks for sharing.

    By Anonymous NumberWise, at 6:37 AM  

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