My mother died in the waning days of last summer. Her last few weeks were difficult. My three sisters cared for her with amazing fortitude and grace. I marveled at their care, unable to help. I could not do it. Now I find myself reading obituaries, often unconsciously. But then what I am doing pierces my conscious mind. The alarm that goes off is the reality that so many of these people in the obits are about my age. According to the Social Security Administration, the average life expectancy for a woman born in the same year I was born, 1952, is about 87 years. My mother lived to see her 88th birthday. I am nowhere near these ages, and yet for some reason, the doors seem to be closing.
I am fighting valiantly against closed doors. I ride my bike and swim. A woman at the pool this morning said, “You’re impressive,” certainly because I am still trying to beat the younger man in the lane next to me. By real standards, times for masters swimmers who compete, I am not impressive. But I am still pushing my own limits. I long board in the park. I ski and try a cartwheel and climb a tree every now and then. Last summer, I paddled on the Colorado River and hiked out of the Grand Canyon. Next month I will go cat skiing – powder skiing away from the lifts transported by a snow cat to virgin open slopes. This will replace helicopter skiing in British Columbia largely because of expense, but also because of the noise and carbon footprint. I am okay with this substitution. But why am I now so preoccupied with what the whole idea of a “bucket list,” getting things done before it’s too late? Maybe it’s because so many of the things I want to do are physical, and my knees, plagued with arthritis, are beginning to war against my goals. I think going on a solo backpack is a must. But I can’t believe I have left this so long. How did this not get done?
Lots of things have gotten done. Little things and big things. Raising a son, falling in love, having satisfying work, taking in the awe of wild landscapes from peaks and passes, sitting at the edges of stunning alpine lakes, teaching in Finland and New Zealand, running a marathon, winning a few triathlons, reading amazing books, … the list could go on and on. My focus must shift from what hasn’t gotten done to what has, to living each day alive to whatever might get done or even not get done for good reason.
Losing a mother, everyone will tell you, is profound, regardless of the circumstances. The impossibility of it fights with the reality. When she was alive, I used to see her in my mirror. It was haunting how much I looked like her, was her visually. But I don’t anymore. Now I see someone who has a distinct identity. It’s me, even though I still don’t understand that me completely. But what I want for this new person in the mirror is stillness, quiet, an appreciation of what is, not a restless critique of what isn’t. I want to pay more attention to my family, to my students, to the natural world around me, to all the blessings I have. I want to be satisfied with what has gotten done, while enjoying whatever else might get done. I want to shred the bucket list and live in the moment.