Things are always happening around us and to us. We feel our hearts race when we encounter a surprise (like getting an extra large chocolate chip in your ice cream), and we hold onto those memories for quick lifts during dull days.
I just wish I could remember more happy little surprises as the days roll on and the years speed by. I had read somewhere that our notion of time flying as we grow older is due to our brain’s already well-stocked memory. So, as we go along our day to day lives, nothing has quite the same sparkle as when we were younger – nothing surprises us anymore.
The advice, of course, was to create and experience new sensations so that time “slows” and our brains stay active.
My brain needs a good kick to remember details (that’s why I blog, scrapbook and journal). It’s not like I forget daily tasks or other things that have happened, but I might forget them after a week, month, or year. I was always amazed (and jealous) of my friends that could relate that “time” we had back in high school or their first day going to elementary. I can remember sensations (like standing in front of my school’s doors looking at our class assignments and hoping against hope that I wasn’t placed with so and so), but they’re vague and not concrete. As each day, month, and year flitters by, I’m more and more aware of all of the “wasted” time that wasn’t filled with more sensations to remember and experience.
I’m even more reminded when I go to see my grandmother. Her 81st birthday was recently, and the family converged on her square red brick home for cake, pizza and a lot of kid-watching. My cousins seem to have embraced the idea of “big families” whole-heartily with one cousin bringing 5 of his 7 to the party.
The party was like every other party, but this time it felt different. Rather than a birthday, it seemed like a holiday – perhaps July 4th or Memorial Day. The family bursting into the birthday song took me by surprise even though we had spent the last ten minutes ribbing my aunt for cutting uneven slices.
It wasn’t because we were having so much fun or the laughing, running and shouting of the kids as they played in the kitchen. It wasn’t even the chaos that was trying to figure out how to make change out of a 20 for the pizza.
It was because my grandmother had, well, become transparent.
My grandmother is a woman of strong opinions. She might not always voice them, but she was sure to join a conversation or to ask what others were talking about. Lately, however, she’s grown more and more silent.
This last birthday is the first where the most I heard her speak were a few sentences. She couldn’t remember whose great-grandchild belonged to which grandchild, or their names, but who could really blame her – I found it difficult myself to separate them all out.
She’s been having memory lapses for over a year now, but this was different. She might repeatedly ask the same question, but she would interact with the group. This time, she asked a couple and then sat back on her floral couch with an intent, but static smile on her face. She watched people, but never asked them what they were doing, or if she could help. Activities happened around her and so, I’m ashamed to say, everyone interacted without her.
After the party, I felt a sad sense of loss. Rather than remembering the party as one where my 81 year old grandmother had fun, felt involved, and was treated equally, I now remember it as a party where she melded into the background.
And I let her.
Too often we live a life precariously balanced between the now and the illusion of eternity. Our family was going about the party like any other party. Afterward, I was struck by the stark present and the missed moment. My grandmother has changed- changed in such a way that every present is valuable and clear whereas tomorrows and yesterdays are forgotten. We are running through life with our worries and our joys, but it’s when we notice an absence that we begin to see the preciousness of the now. The present. The immediate.
My grandmother now lives in the immediate.
I want to join her.