My wife was sick as a dog on Tuesday so I had to take my daughter to day care. As we drove towards her school I noticed my daughter was very quiet. Turning down the jazz playing on the radio I looked at her in the rearview and asked, “Is everything all right, honey?”
Looking very serious my daughter just shook her head. Was she angry at me? Discomfited by the break from her usual Mommy routine? Thinking about butterflies, potty training or the existence of a Supreme Being? There was no way to fathom what was going on in her little synapse forming brain.
As we headed down the road I tried engaging her in conversation and failed. I’ve been very busy lately and we haven’t had much daddy/daughter time. That kind of upsets me. Maybe it upsets her too. My daughter is two and a half. This sweet and innocent time will never come again. I don’t want to miss it. Reminding myself to be a good father, I made a mental reservation to take her to the playground later that afternoon. Natalie loves going down the slides.
I see something new in my daughter daily. Yesterday she showed me how she could open the back door, load laundry into the washing machine and kind of throw a ball. Every day she displays a little bit more reassurance, better motor control, mastery of new words – including a few she shouldn’t know – and a fierce independence. If I try and carry her up a flight of stairs she throws a fit, demanding to do it herself and counting each step as I hover behind her. Every day she evinces signs of an emerging consciousness and a ferocious intelligence. She can do most of the alphabet in sign language and is starting to read. She’ll probably end up smarter than my wife and I.
But I’ve also been noticing other changes. Lately my old dog Buster has been peeing on the kitchen floor at night. That’s because he’s afraid to go outside when it’s dark, a sign of encroaching blindness. My parents have both been afflicted with medical maladies requiring all sorts of medical intervention and I’m now sporting a bald spot on top of my head. What is happening to me? Just yesterday I was razzing my father about turning fifty and now I’m closing in on the half century mark. Everyone and everything around me is getting older. Number provides all distances.
There was a recent article in The Washington Post that said when you turn thirty-seven you are now older than 50% of the people in the world. By the time you’re fifty that ratio increases to two thirds. If you’ve been wondering why everyone is getting younger, it is because they are. When I went to see the new Star Wars movie I was bored. Movies and books often fail to surprise me because I’ve been alive long enough to figure out how they’ll end. Sometimes it seems there’s nothing new under the sun. In the quiet I realize my life is more than half over.
I looked at my daughter’s reflection and sighed. She’ll be a young woman when I’m an old man. Will I be around when she gets married and has children? Nothing in life is guaranteed. My parents won’t hold their great-grandkids and by then Buster will be nothing more than a memory. “Many great dears are taken away,” I silently whisper. “What will become of you and me?”
How I handle growing old will probably impact my daughter deeply. If I screw it up she’ll get hurt and end up financing some therapists’ summer home. Besides, what is the purpose of getting old? Why this inevitable decline? Why the losses and indignities; to watch as our bodies betray us and grow frail? “Everyday gets harder,” an 84-year-old man recently told me. “Old age is a shipwreck.”
A while back I stumbled across a sermon given by a Muslim imam. “The shape that we have,” he preached, “The complexion we have, the wrinkleless face that we have, every one of those things begins to disappear as time passes, have you noticed that? …. The truth is, it’s a reality, we are becoming old. And when we become old we start losing one by one the glamour and the glitterous things that we’ve had. We start losing these things. Because Allah is trying to tell you, ‘Have you prepared for something bigger?’ We gave you your days. We really did. We gave you so much. Now we want you to come to us.”
“Have you prepared for something bigger?” That imam’s words have stayed with me. Perhaps that is what old age is all about. Maybe old age is pruning of sorts, a stripping away of what’s not important. Maybe all the losses we shall face are just preparation to help us let go and focus on what is unchanging and true.
What is unchanging and true? I don’t know. But I’m beginning to think that life is all about the connections we create – the relationships we make with people great and small. We have been given so much. What did we do with it? Were we merciful? Were we kind? Did we love enough? Money and power will mean nothing at the last breath. The only thing that’ll count was how we treated one another. That keeps me awake at night. Perhaps it should. As I shift in my car seat I wonder if that’ll be the path to my salvation, the way I will teach Natalie about life.
When I got to the school I brought Natalie to the playground. As soon as she saw her schoolmates playing on the jungle gym she said, “Bye Daddy,” and took off without looking back. That burned a bit but I guess that’s the way of things.
Leaning on the fence I felt every inch of my forty-eight years. As I watched my daughter cavort on the playground the old words came rushing back.
Each minute bursts in the burning room,
The great globe reels in the solar fire,
Spinning the trivial and unique away.
(How all things flash! How all things flare!)
What am I now that I was then?
Nay memory restore again and again
The smallest color of the smallest day:
Time is the school in which we learn,
Time is the fire in which we burn.
Thinking of Natalie, I went back to my small day and continued to burn.
The poem I quoted was “Calmly We Walk Through this April’s Day” by Delmore Schwartz. You can find it in its entirety here.
That was really nice. I’m the same age as you, but my oldest just graduated from college and my youngest will be a college junior next year. I was a mere child myself when I was dealing with potty training. I sometimes wonder how our kids survived our complete lack of insight when they were young. But then maybe it was an advantage. I didn’t have the mental cycles to really think about what we were doing as parents, or why we were doing it. Two twenty somethings with two kids in diapers don’t think much beyond getting through each day!
With regards to being a younger parent vs older – there’s ups and downs on both sides.
It started with some old stinky neighbors dying. Who cares… Then the rock idols of my youth started dying. Sucks! They made good music. I want them back. Then, when I visited my medical doctors office I was assigned to a new doctor. Because, you know… The new guy was way younger than me. I complained. They said there is not much folk younger than me working there.
I should have noticed the signs when my neighbors…. but I didn’t. And now I really have to think about this situation. Its new to me, please bear with me. Before I was that grumpy guy. Now I’m that old grumpy guy. Soon the slow old grumpy guy.
Suck it. I still have my rock music. MP3. I’m may be old but not stupid.
Oh my goodness…so happy to have found your blog again. I had read up until the moment you left the restaurant and I come to find you are married, have a beautiful little girl and a new home! My o my how time flies. I’d read your blog for the laughs and your insight on life and humankind. Now I can read and relate. Your take on things is a new perspective for me – oh and how I love your take on things!
You tell good stories. Keep telling stories.
“O mankind! if ye have a doubt about the Resurrection, (consider) that We created you out of dust, then out of sperm then out of a leech-like clot, then out a morsel of flesh, partly formed and partly unformed, in order that We may manifest (Our Power) to you; and We cause whom We will to rest in the wombs for an appointed term, then do We bring you out as babes, then (foster you) that ye may reach your age of full strength; and some of you are called to die, and some are sent back to the feeblest old age, so that they know nothing after having known (much). And (further), thou seest the earth barren and lifeless, but when We pour down rain on it, it is stirred (to life), it swells, and it puts forth every kind of beautiful growth (in pairs).
This is so, because Allah is the Reality: it is He Who gives life to the dead, and it is He Who has power over all things.”
“It is Allah Who created you in a state of (helpless) weakness, then gave (you) strength after weakness, then, after strength, gave (you weakness and a hoary head: He creates as He wills, and it is He Who has all knowledge and power.” – Qur’an 30:54
“If We grant long life to any, We cause him to be reversed in nature: Will they not then understand?” – Qur’an 36:68
I’m Muslim. I’ve been reading your blog for a few years now. So I start reading your post and I was thinking of these verses… then I read the part about the Imam and had to lift my jaw off the floor. The ‘big thing’ the Imam was referring to is the Day of Judgement. Muslims believe that as young people we’re so caught up in daily life, we forget that this life isn’t permanent. So God/Allah gives us all these signs so that we remember our true purpose in life and so that we remember that we will all be called to account on the Day of Judgement. We’ll be asked about what we did with all the blessings that we received: our youth, wealth etc.
I’m curious: which Imam was this?
Sorry I got so carried away… I just didn’t expect to see an Islamic reference on here!
Wishing you and your family peace and contentment,
Long-time fan and lurker.
I found “Waiter Rant” at a thrift store in Vancouver, BC, and really enjoyed it. I’m glad to find that things are going well for you! Of all the random thrift store books I’ve picked up, it was one of the best.
This post really made me wonder, about our existence and the futility of our day to day tasks. We are given a very short period here and do not realise it until we are more than half way.
Wonderful post btw. Hope you were able to take your daughter to the slides later that day.
I had wondered what Tolian Soran (Malcolm McDowell) was quoting in Star Trek: Generations.
My sister and her husband adopted a Chinese girl at 51. A year later, her husband died. Fortunately he left a good pension but she has raised that child all by herself. Her daughter is her world. Whatever mistakes my sister has or has not made, she and her daughter love each other and are very close. What’s now is now. In ten years my sister will be 73 and her daughter, perhaps, will be graduating from college. Keep the “now” good and the “then” will be as good as it can be, given the inevitable. You’ve seen “the inevitable” in your career and travels. But you have also seen it done with grace and dignity and kindness, and I think that if you walk the path you’re trying to walk, this will be your fortune, whether carried out by you or by those around you. Good luck.
Your post reminds me of Nelly Furtado’s song – why do all good things come to an end. But, that’s life and a universal truth and also the most ironical side of life is ageing, then finally withering away. Your post puts it in a wonderful way. For me, it was sort of eye-opener which went something like, “Wake up lady! Your days on earth are numbered so make the best use of it.” Loved it. 🙂
June was more than a month ago…next? :=)