A few days after her 85th birthday, on one of my frequent visits to her, my mother sidled up to me hesitantly, and almost apologetically said, “I’d like you to take me shopping,.”
“Of course, Ma,” what else is new, I thought to myself, “What do you want to buy?”
“A new living room set,” she announced in the same tone as she might have said, “A bottle of milk.”
“A new living room set,” she reiterated,” this time in her most defiant voice.
“What’s the matter with your living room?” I asked, sweeping my hand dramatically around the room, eyeing each piece of furniture as never before.
“It’s old and I’m tired of it and I feel like sprucing up.” and she sat back in her “comfy” chair in her “I dare you to deny it” pose and folded her arms around her belly.
I sputtered a bit, shush-ing my thoughts, struggling to keep them away from my voice, “For God’s sake, you’re 85 years old – how much longer do you think you’ll be using new furniture?” and indeed, I silenced that voice. Eventually, I regained my equilibrium. “Ok. Ma. When do you want to go – and where?”
My mother lived 8 more years, approximately 2,820 days, basking in the pleasure of her “spruced up” living room.
So why, at the age of 91, do I stare at my used underwear and think, “I can’t throw them away. They still fit, and are not torn and are undeniably serviceable — and how long am I likely to use new ones?” Remembering my mom, I decided to “spruce up” from the bottom up.
And the more I think about it, the more I become an advocate of living as if there were no such thing as dying.
In deference to my progeny, I have always said that I can’t die until I clean up my desk, and throw away some more of the trash I didn’t throw away last time I threw away trash. So, tell me the truth: Isn’t the act of cleaning my desk tantamount to suicide? It paves the way for a smooth, easy, guilt-free trip to the hereafter. But what’s the rush ???
People are living much longer these days — and for some, living now is better than the stressful days of their youth. For those of us who have managed to eschew “doctor visits” as the social activity of our daily lives, there is so much to be said about this time of life as being a new “phase” – a challenge of discovery. Even for those of us who are more sedentary now than in the past, there are more places we can go on the internet than ever we might have imagined – physical places, and places of the mind.
The famous Joseph Campbell exhorted us to “follow your bliss.” And alas, after years of total immersion in family matters – bringing up kids, caring for elders, developing careers, creating social enclaves, too many people have lost their sense of “bliss,” or are unable to articulate it even to themselves. It is most likely something beyond buying new furniture, or bras. I’m thinking of giving a class to people over 80 — in “Finding Your Bliss.” I hope some of you will enroll– or send a loved one.