August 12th, 2012
About a month ago, our 5-year-old son, Fin, asked me: “When a man is old, is that his last age?”
His question was so profound I didn’t immediately know how to answer it.
Of course all of our lives are of different lengths. Unfortunately, I’ve lost friends and loved ones of all ages.
I love books. I read and read and read. Lately, my favorite author is Cheryl Strayed, author of one of my now-all-time favorite books, Wild. Strayed is a wonderful writer, and I feel a kinship to her when reading her words and experiences.
Recently, I finished (more like devoured!) her latest book, Tiny Beautiful Things. In a chapter called “The Obliterated Place,” a 58-year-old man writes to Strayed (“Sugar”) about the loss of his 22-year-old son, his only child, who was killed four years earlier by a drunk driver. He asks how to go on, and how to be human again.
In her response to the man, Strayed (“Sugar”) mentions a remark her own young son made that is, coincidentally, similar to the aforementioned question Fin asked me. (“We don’t know how many years we have for our lives…”)
Strayed, when she was just 22, lost her mother. She writes how deeply sorry she is for the man’s loss, and among other things, writes: “It has been healing to me to accept in a very simple way that my mother’s life was forty-five years long, that there was nothing beyond that. There was only my expectation that there would be — my mother at eighty-nine, my mother at sixty-three, my mother at forty-six. Those things don’t exist. They never did.”
“Sugar” continues by encouraging the man to think: “My son’s life was twenty-two years long… There is no twenty-three.”
The words and sharing, both the man’s letter, and Strayed’s (Sugar’s) response, are poignant. Reading it broke me open, and has caused me to think, often, of Strayed’s wisdom reminding us that any thought we have about the length of our lives is an expectation, not a certainty.
So, to the point of this blog post… Imagine, for a moment, that your life has only one more year in it.
What changes would you make? Who would you choose to experience your time with? How would you be? What would you say?
These are questions to live by. Just in case.