Sunday, September 22, 2019

Happy Birthday to Me

Grow old with me.
The best is yet to be.

An old saying and a lovely one. It comes with a picture of a couple joining hands at the beginning of a long road and walking it together, gathering experiences and wisdom along the way, enjoying the satisfaction and perspective of what they’ve learned. Once they’ve arrived, their shared memories gather daily around them like chicks that nestle reliably into their palms—warm, pale yellow, and chirping. They take them up together, exchange knowing glances, and smile.

Grow old with me.
The best is yet to be.

Growing old together, done well, is a privilege. Common reflection brings joy. Even shared distress deepens and strengthens life’s fabric when looked at in the perspective of its survival. The promise of growing old together is so compelling that it can sometimes be the lifeline that makes youth survivable, but noble plans don’t always bloom into reality.

Sometimes people stop growing old.

Today is my birthday. Happy birthday to me. I have not stopped growing old.
But you have.

I’m 68 today and this is the first day that I’ve been older than you. You never got to be 68. You died at 67. You let go of my hand and stopped growing old with me.

The walk looks different now, and the country I walk through not cushioned any longer by companionship. Separation doesn’t steal accomplishment or memory, but it does bring a harshness, as though stepping off a soft, yielding garden path onto one of unreliable stone. Every step rings with reminders of what was and lost opportunities of what might have been.

Grow old with me.
The best is yet to be.

That won’t happen now. Not ever. There will be no side by side rockers on the front porch, no pair of deck chairs in the sun, no great grandchildren scattered at common feet.

But something does remain. The promise, I believe, is not broken. It will simply be fulfilled in a way we didn’t ask for or expect. We may not grow old together hand in hand, but as I grow older alone, I bring something of you with me.

More than memory, less than flesh, the mystery that made your heart beat, your courage endure, and imagination soar still surrounds me. That remains. No hand reaches out to take mine any more, but I hold you nevertheless.

A happy end still waits. The second part of the promise stands.

After my own days are fulfilled, I will walk into that same open country you now wander, a place of perfect intimacy, of unending companionship.

Remind me, please. On lonely days, or on hollow ones, when my arms feel hard the emptiness.
Tell me again.

The best is yet to be.