My maternal grandfather lived to be 104 and my paternal grandfather 83. My paternal grandfather was a full-blown alcoholic, so it’s hard to say whether that preserved him longer or shortened his life. I prefer to think that it cut his life down via a self-inflicted wound.
My maternal grandmother lived to be in her early 80’s and I’m not sure about my paternal grandmother – maybe somewhere around her mid-to-late 50’s. The former died from congestive heart failure brought on by decades of smoking cigarettes and the strokes that they incubated in her body, and the latter by breast cancer in the early 1960’s. I think that my paternal grandmother’s life was extended, yet paradoxically foreshortened compared to today’s metrics, due to the state of the art around breast cancer treatment and that her life would have been much longer had she had the better fortune to have been born more contemporary.
In any event, I’ve often thought about how much time I might have left, and for planning purposes I’ve had to force myself to think more conservatively vs. liberally, so I picked a nice round number of 100 as a life span.
After my elder maternal uncle dropped dead while playing tennis of a brain aneurism at 69 and my mother’s other older brother died at 69 of brain cancer, an eerie coincidence that drove my normally fatalistic brother to have a CAT scan of his brain for lurking bulges or blots, I revised that number down a bit, but then bumped it back up as my mother, a smoker since her teens like her mother, sailed through 69 and beyond without the strokes that began to repeatedly stagger the woman that had borne her into the cradle of a bedridden life at a similar age.
Thinking about living that long was more than a bit scary, as I had been forced to keep re-writing the mental script around dialogue and costume for the rest of my days. I used to envy those whose scripts were ready for the rest of the play.
There were many times that I had felt left behind others as they bounced off of the tangent and beyond, and it has only been recently that those feelings have receded.
I’ve watched successive crops of women present as seeds and then soak up their estrogenic fertilizer and bloom throughout the years, and wondered when my own time would come to bud and burst. If there’s anything the enveloping blanket of time has taught me, it’s that my personal practice is to be present here for my life, now, and enjoy it as it happens with those around me, instead of looking at it in the memory book of my mind, alone.
I mourn the years gone by that I lived in the past or the future, thinking that either was where my happiness lay. But as it turns out it was always with me, ready for my embrace, but I shunned it looking elsewhen under the self-imposed burden of the long view. The quality of time now has much more savor and is much more filling than the past and future quantities that I used to so disinterestedly ingest in a vain attempt to satiate my hunger.
Living in the now creates time enough to do everything that must be done for yourself and for others, and I no longer mourn the past and future as much as I used to, for right now I’m doing what I must do to embrace my happiness.