The (Not Quite) Final Exam
It has been twelve days since I returned from a six-week trip back to the States. At the age of 64, it is merely a page of a tome. I went “home” for a variety of reasons, including medical, family visits (especially a family wedding!), and escape from my current home–not necessarily in that order. Upon returning, I am finding myself pondering my children’s lives and lifestyles, the differences among family members and what they consider important, climate differences, and my own bumbling trek through life. Mostly, I have been trying to examine just who I am, how I got to this place in my life, and where to go from here.
During my trip, I made two major mistakes: the first is that I didn’t journal; the second involves my daughter, but that will be the subject of another post–titled along the lines of “The Making of the Shrew”, or “Daughter Dearest”. That I didn’t journal and that I’m taking so long to put my observations and experiences in writing concerns me most because I don’t know how accurate my recollections are any more. Inaccuracy might be a good thing, though. I might be able to inject humor into the few complex situations that fell into my path!
The obvious things I’ve discovered–or re-discovered–about myself are the following: capability, awareness, and the ability to love (among other things). I am fully capable of traveling on my own, even with excessive luggage. My spinal stenosis, spreading arthritis, and general weakening of muscles gets in the way of my desire for full freedom of action and movement, but it is not so debilitating that I lose all sense of independence. One thing I have learned is to accept help somewhat more graciously than I have in the past, and that there are always wonderful people willing to help an old woman when she is obviously baffled and at loose ends. Long ago I discovered that there is always at least one Good Samaritan in even the most ignoble throng. During my travels, my faith in humanity was not dimmed, but strengthened. Trust in the basic goodness of people, and even a frail ole lady can travel the world.
Awareness is more than knowing where things are and who is nearby. It is also the quality of understanding one’s often disruptive role in a host’s household or hearing the unspoken words and noticing the climate of a household or environment. I learned to listen to the spoken and unspoken words of my grandchildren, all of whom are in disrupted households. I learned to notice when accommodating me into a routine was becoming stressful on my children–not always right away, and not always correctly, and probably not about every situation, but enough times where I recognized that I have my own set of expectations and habits that are less conducive to behavioral change. Interestingly, although I found my children’s households to be devoid of a certain amount of privacy, that did not bother me so much as I thought it might. When I unexpectedly stayed with my sister for the final few days of my trip and when I visited a close friend in Lubbock, TX, I had a room to myself where I could retreat if I so desired. However, what I learned even in the latter two places is that a bedroom is nothing more than a place to sleep and hold one’s belongings–much the way I generally treat the bedroom in my own home. I like to be in the middle of family members and friends; my preference is not to be alone, even if the company is pets. My very early years made me an observer, and there is little to observe when one is alone in a room or dwelling.
That “love is a four-letter word” has always been an incongruous and trite observation to me. What is love? Why do we feel love? How do we feel love? What do we mean when we say to people, “I love you”? I have learned that love is more than a feeling of comfort and more than a necessity for close human relationships. For me, at least. I love my children, even if I don’t particularly like one of them (back to the daughter later). I love my grandchildren, even those that are grandchildren by marriage or living arrangement, as each is a delightful individual with a unique personality and set of talents. But why do I love them? Loving is not the same as being in love, yet we utilize the same word to describe both the affection we have for family and friends as well as the for the draw and excitement we feel for a romantic partner. For those of us who have lived beyond the age when sexual attraction is an issue, the difference is between genuine caring for an individual and lustful stirrings. But if that is the case, why do I say that I love certain people while merely liking others? Where do we draw the line? At what point do we say “I care about this person but not so much about another”? What I learned about myself is that I can love a person fleetingly as well as long-term. I met people on this trek of mine with whom I made instant connections. I cared–and still care–about them, even knowing that I will never encounter them again. It had nothing to do with what they could do for me. In several cases, I “did” for them rather than the other way around. I encountered people who were traveling home, people traveling to new and exciting destinations, individuals who were starting a new life chapter or closing one, etc. Each was instantly stirred affection in me for different reasons. I met these people in airports, on planes, at ticket and store check-out counters, in lines, at kids’ sport functions, in restaurants–in short, everywhere I went. To say I instantly liked everyone is far from the truth. For example, I found myself disliking an individual at an airport security check-point in Midland, TX, because he confiscated an item of “contraband” that I had overlooked while packing. The item was a butane lighter that I was given as a gift. The lighter had been in my purse when I passed through every single check-point: here in Sint Maarten, in Miami, in Dallas-Fort Worth. The conversation that took place over this lighter at the Midland-Odessa Airport made it obvious that the security person liked it and planned on keeping it. There was no point in arguing about it as I was wrong to be carrying it in my purse, but I found the blatant “thievery” obnoxious enough that I could find nothing to like about the person. And that makes me think that love involves trust. Can you love a person whom you don’t trust? And what makes me believe that all the other people I encountered were/are trustworthy? Is it deviousness that makes a person unlovable to me? Did I find my grandchildren instantly lovable because there was already a family connection? Or do I love them because of their candidness? Is it primarily people who are disingenuous that I dislike and for whom I feel no affection? Is the fondness I feel when I meet new people love/affection or something else? How different is love from like? What do we mean when we say we like a person? Why do we feel–I don’t know–elated or warm or warm-fuzzy for some people but not for others? All I know is that I feel genuine fondness for people whom I don’t almost instantly dislike. To me, that is some sort of love. I also know–now–that there are very few people for whom I feel no love.
So this Li’l Ole Lady is finding much to contemplate about her life, and is finding more and more resources to discuss in future posts. And I had better get those thoughts down as quickly as possible, before they fade into the general pool of life experiences…