There have been a lot. More than there should be.
When I read them I transport myself back in time to where I can see them in the cafeteria, or out on the football field, back during those long-ago days when Bill Clinton was president and everyone was wearing flannel and warn them they only had five or twelve or eighteen years left to live. That they would leave grieving parents who’d have to go on for decades, or small children. It doesn’t matter if we were friends, or if we knew each other very well. I was a watcher from the shadows back then, a lurker in corners. No one knew who I was but I knew who they were.
From where I sit at work I can see a rack of greeting cards – there’s one that says “What would you attempt to do if you knew you would not fail?” To be honest, a lot of things. What I think it should say instead is “What would you attempt to do if you knew you would die at age 36?” but no one would want to open an envelope they got in the mail and see that.
I hate it when people, especially women, turn thirty and act like that’s old. It’s not. But it’s not 20. When I read the obituaries of people I went to high school with I realize I am 34 and I don’t have my whole life ahead of me anymore. I have spent sixteen years on my own and I haven’t done quite what I always thought I would do with that time. I used to have a 2-page list of regrets hanging on my fridge. My husband took it down when his brother came to visit because he thought it was embarrassing. The last time I heard about someone I went to high school with dying, I looked at my list of regrets and realized that while I still have regrets and will undoubtedly continue to accrue them, I don’t have the luxury of time to give them such careful consideration anymore.
There were these two elderly people flirting on the train today:
“How many babies you have?” he asked.
“Nothin like when a handsome man looks into the eyes of a beautiful woman like yourself and then the magic happens that brings life from life.”
“Mmm mmm. It ain’t like that anymore. Not with young people today.”
(Actually, I’m sure it is pretty much the same, except we get to watch TV while we’re doing it.)
For my book club we’re reading Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose, in which elderly historian Lyman Ward, becoming wheelchair-bound, finds time to reflect on the personal papers of his ancestors. His son Rodman has no patience for this: he’s a product of the 1960s and has no use for the past, only the now, only the future. This really grinds Lyman Ward’s gears:
My grandparents had to live their way out of one world and into another, or into several others, making new out of old the way corals live their reef upward. I am on my grandparents’ side. I believe in Time, as they did, and in the life chronological rather than in the life existential. We live in time and through it, we build our huts in its ruins, or used to, and we cannot afford all these abandonings.
I’ve been reading obituaries since I was 16 and I am totally sure we can’t afford all these abandonings.