I’ve been thinking about mortality lately, in a positive way. Last Sunday we all drove down to Nashville (in two vehicles; we thought we’d squeeze all nine into the Suburban, but comfort and safety issues changed our minds at the very last minute) to celebrate with my family, who had all converged there on the occasion of my mother’s 80th birthday. Everyone else was there for the weekend, including a Saturday night outing to the Grand Old Opry, but these days as a family we can only afford to make day trips where we can drive—and it is a good thing our cows are dry at the moment, or we wouldn’t have had the luxury of twelve hours away.
It was a good time. My mom has recovered well from a stroke she had a while ago; she has occasional memory lapses, but is also aware when she has had one, and in general isn’t much different than she’s ever been mentally. Physically she’s slower and more tentative, but still getting around under her own power. My dad, who turns 79 in November, is doing great, sharp as ever, mellower than ever, in excellent shape. He reminded us several times that we’d be reconvening again in Nashville in November 2009, to celebrate his own 80th birthday.
I never got to visit with my folks often since leaving home in 1971, even less when we moved to the eastern part of the country in 2001. I regret that, but I do get to enjoy them a little more objectively than I might if they had been a constant presence in our lives. What I’ve enjoyed about the past ten years or so is my growing understanding that they are finishing well; time is growing short, but they aren’t marking time or frantically trying to get more in or raging against the dying of the light, but simply completing the course they set out on oh so many years ago. It’s gratifying to see, and it’s encouraging.
I think about this because I’m roughly twenty-five years behind them, having just turned 54, just passing the two-thirds marker. And Debbie and I are about to celebrate our 23rd anniversary, so by that reckoning we are approaching the halfway point. Only now do I feel like I can think detailed, concrete thoughts about the rest of the course, given the current combination of so many miles already traveled and the goal finally being near enough; planning the next twenty-five years is manageable, and I finally have the experience I need to do it.
I never thought much about epitaths, except to laugh at Margaret Smith’s joke: “My uncle Sammy was an angry man. He had printed on his tombstone: What are you looking at?” For awhile I thought that might be mine too, but now I have a better one in mind:
He prepared his children for what was to come.
And by that I mean what is to come both eternally and temporally. It’s been our project ever since we started a family. It took a long time for the two of us to figure out which way to go, it took no small measure of courage and determination for us to begin walking down that path, and only now are we getting a clear view of the life we think we should be living, at least in outline. It’s turned into a lifetime project. But that’s OK; as they say, it’s for the kids.