Life is like the 55 meter indoor hurdles run by klutzes for its briefness and the lack of elegance with which we all get through it. Family gatherings during the holidays offer the opportunity to take stock. How have you been and what are you dancing with now? Jamming multiple family events into one day means not spending enough time with any one person, but instead getting quick downloads between eating too much and taking pictures for posterity and InstaGram. The latter offers immediate notification of what you’ve been up to for your followers (some of whom are in the picture), the former is the path highlighted for you years later when everything has changed.
In the last family event of the night, after all the caloric intake and the unwrapping of gifts and the catching up on what you’ve been up to, I realized I was way too warm and needed a walk outside in the cool air. Looking at my watch I calculated how realistic it was to hit 10,000 steps and weighed it against the limited time I have with these people in my life. I settled on a quick walk around the block and resigned myself to getting the rest done in the shrinking time left in the evening. I’d get over the mark eventually, with an hour to spare in the day. Should’ve knocked it off first thing in the morning but such are the holidays.
When I have a goal in mind I get restless, and sitting in a chair for hours isn’t going to cut it for me, so it wasn’t long before I needed to walk around the house a bit. So I left the crowded room to walk around the kitchen and into the formal living room, built for showing furniture that people don’t sit on. There standing by the door was the oldest aunt of my wife, waiting for a ride home that wouldn’t come for awhile as my father-in-law chatted in the other room with my kids. In that moment she looked like a teenager, though she is dancing with 90, waiting by the door to go. We talked about sports she used to play, for she was a very active in tennis and skiing for much of her life, and her eyes welled up as she talked about not doing those things anymore. We smiled and talked and eventually it was time to go and we opted to bring her back to her apartment and chatted more with her as we drove.
My restlessness met her sadness and they recognized each other. The sadness was rooted in her own frustrated restlessness, doomed to an older body and an aging mind battling dementia. She missed Thanksgiving on a bad day, but on Christmas she was lucid and sharp, seeking out conversation and connection. And we connected and smiled at stories of past glories, recent small victories and setbacks overcome. And I thought about my own restlessness and wondered when it would meet sadness again. We all look in the mirror and see our story. If I’m lucky enough to get there I want the sadness in my old age to be for the things I can no longer do, not the things I never did.