Today is my brother’s birthday. Unfortunately, it’s also the anniversary of my father’s death, which really probably puts a damper on my brother’s celebrations. It also happens to be a milestone birthday this year for him.
He’s reached the big Five Oh, as they say. I remember when thirty was practically retirement age, at least in my opinion. Forty was really ancient, and fifty, well…you were just occupying space until you died. After all, what could you do when you were half a century old?
Little did I know then, right?
You can do a lot after fifty. Most of the nation’s population is now at that age, and we’re doing a lot of stuff. We hike, bike, backpack, tour, write, read, make movies, do business, create, innovate, and a lot of other things. I’m now suspicious of those without a few gray hairs, because after all, what can someone without a bit of experience under their belt possibly have to offer me?
What can you say?
It seems I suffer from prejudices. Pretty arrogant of me to not want to admit it too, actually. It takes a two year old, or rather an almost-two-year old, to remind me of the things that youth has to teach us.
Like in the purely sensual pleasure of taking a mini cupcake frosted with luridly colored “buttercream” (it actually contains no butter and way too many chemicals to possibly pronounce) and licking it with a rapidly flicking tongue as though you were a lizard is pure delight. You don’t notice the greasy texture of the frosting, but your tongue will positively spasm with delight at the sweetness. It takes a good fifteen minutes to enjoy that tiny bit of frosting that way, compared to the two bite “adult” way of eating a mini cupcake. Then, you still have the cake to enjoy too.
You don’t have to worry about what to say then either. She isn’t into verbalization much, it’s all about sound, facial expression, and tactile expression. Jabber a bit, laugh a lot, smile more, and give hugs and kisses with total spontaneity, and hey…life is good.
What can you say about that?
Grief. There are no words to ease that pain. I know that, I’ve been there. I’ve mourned a lot of people, from childhood friends to my son, to my father and all of my grandparents and great grandparents. Aunts and uncles, cousins, co-workers, acquaintances…I’ve lost them too. It hurts, and it’s different each time. With the intensity of the grief, people are under the misconception that it gets better over time.
Hogwash, total hogwash.
About all I can say about it is that you get used to it. It’s like a scar, it’s always there, you never forget it is there, and it never goes away. You just get used to looking in the mirror and seeing it. When my son died, it felt as though I had this massive hole through the very center of my being, and part of me was shocked that the sun still shone, the birds still sang, and I still breathed. How could that be, when my world had ceased to be?
Now, it’s been over ten years. Longer than I got to have him, I have grieved for him. I still feel tears well up sometimes when I think about it, and we still talk about him, as well as talk about “That Day.” I still will cry, and I still remember him, every day, not just on the anniversary of his death or his birthday. I still miss him. We still laugh about some of the things he did, as well as some of his idiosyncrasies, and that’s good too.
I grieve for my father too. Not in the same way, for we know from childhood that our parents are probably going to die before we do and that we’ll have to grieve for them then. Part of my grief with my father is over our rocky relationship, which we had managed to repair in the last years of his life. I grieve for the fact that there were so many missed opportunities, so much more that the relationship could have been, if only things had been different.
Grief comes with guilt too. You second guess yourself, you wonder what you could have done different over time, if you could have changed some of the worst parts of the relationship in some positive manner if you had been that perfect person we all strive to be. That’s normal too.
But it’s also normal to be normal and not that perfect person. I think the perfect person, the one that I hold as a mental image of who I’d like to be, would scare me half to death. Who could be that calm, that rational, that loving and considerate, and not have angel wings and a halo? Most of us don’t interact daily with angels, and if I suddenly became one…well, I’m not sure anyone would see me or even admit that they had seen me.
Come on, what would you say if you saw an “angel” walking down the street or shopping in the local store? What could you say that didn’t have your family wanting to lock you up?
That doesn’t mean we should quit striving for the impossible goal of becoming that perfect person we’re striving towards though. I may not be an angel, but sometimes, you don’t have to be perfect, don’t have to have a halo, and you don’t need angel wings to make a difference to someone else. Angels come in many forms, you know. Sometimes, they are a middle aged woman bringing groceries to a single mother who is struggling to feed her children. It might be coats for someone who can’t afford to buy coats that actually fit their kids. It might be stopping to help someone change a tire on a summer Sunday morning, getting dirty and making yourself late for church in the process. It might be helping a neighbor move in or out. It might be giving some bread to a man standing on a corner begging, or to a young homeless couple that is probably addicted to drugs. It might be helping an old woman get her groceries from her car to her door. It might be hiring a guy who has been looking for a job so long that he has nearly given up daring to hope that his application will ever get any attention.
All it takes is to care actually. To do more than merely go through the motions. Sometimes it means not only doing the letter of our “job” in the course of the day, but actually putting real effort into it, going an extra inch or two to help someone. Other times, it cuts into our “play” time, or means giving up something that we’d rather be doing in order to make someone else’s journey a little bit easier. Other times, it may be as simple as reaching into the groceries that you just bought, and taking out the bread you don’t really need…and handing it to someone outside the store that does need it. Another day, it might mean that you simply do your best to solve your own problems.
Sometimes, it is also a case of minding your own business instead. That is especially the case with gossip. Too often, gossip is mostly fiction, but presented in a manner that makes it sound perfectly plausible. It may seem innocent, but the problem is…it can seriously damage someone’s life and cause them a great deal of problems, all for something they never did or said. It can lead to real financial hardship on occasion as well. I know in my own case, I was once upon a time merely amused about gossip about me, never realizing the damage it was doing and would continue to do even years later. (Gossip had my life far more interesting than reality ever was!) Ultimately, it almost cost me my job, and had repercussions that pursued me for over a decade, and the truth is…none of it was even based on truth. I was judged guilty, plus never had the “fun” of committing the acts!
What can you say? Your mother was right. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. If you don’t know that it is true, don’t repeat it. In addition, sometimes, things aren’t exactly what they appear to be. Be kind. Be considerate. Try walking in the other person’s shoes.
If all else fails, along with words, there is always the option of opting for non-verbal communication too. And no, I don’t mean giving someone “the finger”, but rather a smile. Don’t wait for Washington to bring us change, be the change yourself and be the change.
It takes something, someone, some act to be the catalyst for change. It can be you.