I got lost on the way to
my college reunion.
It was supposed to be a
trip down memory lane, the drive to Michigan an exercise in muscle memory. But
when I exited the highway, searching for the familiar pizzeria, the old school
and the shopping center I knew, I missed the turn. The landmarks had evaporated,
replaced by new construction.
That’s what it’s like
getting older. Everything that is familiar, everything you think you know,
begins to fall away.
It starts when your
parents sicken and slip away. Much is said about the deep challenges of caring
for aging parents. What we don’t articulate as readily is that it is an emotional
sucker-punch to lift your frail father off the floor from where he has fallen.
When the guy who is your safety net, your rock, your Atticus, can no longer
stand on his own, it’s terrifying to realize that now you must do just that.
You keep looking around
for a grown-up to guide you.
The feeling strangely
echoes every time a movie star or entertainer dies. I never understood when my
mother-in-law used to say, so wistfully, “What a shame; he was so handsome,”
when the Hollywood golden boy who had passed away wasn’t even a favorite of hers.
Now I see he was a cultural landmark that grounded her.
It’s odd, the little
things that make us feel rooted in time and place.
One by one, your favorite
retailers, movie theaters and restaurants close; each feels like a personal
loss. Not that you don’t like Amazon and Grubhub; it’s just that these physical
places were extensions of your life’s story. It was the grocery store where you
shopped for your holiday briskets and bumped into your neighbors; the cinema
where you took your child to see her first full-length movie; the Chinese restaurant
where you had egg rolls every Christmas Eve.
From now on, you’ll only see
them on Facebook, when your feed informs you that on this date two, five or 10
years ago, you were there. Now the touchstones of your life will be virtual,
even as your former workplaces reorganize or close, and the house you grew up
in is razed to make way for condominiums. You find that you cannot go home
again because that home no longer exists.
Life goes on. You go to
work and make dinner. You pay your bills, check your 401K and dream of
remodeling your kitchen. You have the oil changed. You help your adult child
select her health insurance plan and a young colleague navigate holidays with
her new in-laws. You bake cookies and put up pickles and freeze chicken soup
for a rainy day. You have your annual mammogram. You change the batteries in
your smoke detector. You realize that you actually are “adulting.”
You find new touchstones.
You have a new happy place
at your BFF’s home in Florida, where she has moved for a working retirement. Your
house begins to fill with dishes of shells you collect together while strolling
along the beach, making your home feel lighter.
A new neighborhood eatery
opens in the shuttered space that once housed your favorite Chinese restaurant,
and it is developed by the same folks who owned the place where you had your
daughter’s bat mitzvah. It becomes your family’s new favorite spot.
You learn how to kayak and
use Photoshop. You tackle a soufflé. You
adopt a cat. You start to attend plays
and concerts like you used to, before life got in the way. You take that trip
When you pause to peel
back your disappointment in the current political climate, you see the progress
that has unfurled while you were busy being a part of it: Parental leave for
new moms and dads. Support for marriage equality. Growing opportunities for
girls in school sports. Zero tolerance for sexual harassment at work. Young
people willing to stand up, march or walk out for what they believe in.
Your car learns the way to
your daughter’s apartment, a stone’s throw but light years away from the place
where you grew up. You no longer need to close your eyes to picture her as an
adult, because she is there, navigating her job and learning to cook dinner and
live on a budget, negotiating relationships and workout regimes, so similar and
yet for different than you were at her age. She invites you for Shabbat dinner. You recognize the torch has been passed,
and your hearts swells. And you realize that — someday — there will be