I might be surprised that I made it this far. After all, ninety-one is still considered something of an achievement, especially given what we’ve lived through in the past half-century.
Except for the fact that all the women in my family seem to break the tape at 100 without much effort, and then sail on past the finish line for another couple of years before dying, I think in large part, because they’re ready for a new suit of clothes and another great adventure.
Good thing I’ve been doing yoga all these years. I can still do a headstand, touch my toes to my nose. Things they applaud you for when you’re 5 they’ll oddly applaud you for again a lifetime later.
I think the part which surprises me the most is how glad I am to still be here. Not that I’ve ever wanted to die. I’ve always wanted to live forever (if forever could be a little less wrinkled and creaky).
Except there was a moment – one of those vivid, almost cinematically remembered moments – when I was 20. I was in Seattle, sitting at the table in my boyfriend’s kitchen. An ocean-blue wall on my left. Brad breakfasting across from me – his eyes a perfect cerulean match for that wall. Ooh. Brad. Seventy damn years and a couple dozen men later and still, with a single thought, I can feel him. Moments like that let you know for sure that time is just a made-up thing.
Anyway, I was reading Seattle’s alt-weekly paper… Oh, hell. Now I’ve really just dated myself. I’m talking about a free periodical, printed on a paper called newsprint, which came out once a week and covered the doings in the city from an edgy, artsy, lefty perspective. Like Seven Days – which I believe is the only hard-copy weekly left anywhere in the world. And they’re only around because so are Pamela and Paula. I don’t know how those gals are still alive, but they say when you’re on a weekly deadline, you just don’t have time to die.
So, the Seattle paper’s lead story was about this book that had just come out. It was by an unknown guy named – get this – Bill McKibben! Yup. Years and years before the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Nobel, the knighthood, all the streets and schools named after him, the statues in all the parks. And this book was announcing to the world the reality of a thing called global warming. We’d never heard of it, and it was almost unimaginable. The ice caps melting? Islands and coastlines disappearing like Atlantis? Mass extinctions on an unthinkable scale? Drought? Resource wars? World-wide starvation?
I think that’s probably what’s hardest for you young folks to understand. How fast things changed once the feedback loops really got going. It really wasn’t always like this. Kids sometimes ask me, “Why didn’t you know?” Of course we knew. Intellectually. But we liked our lives as they were and the world seemed a pretty immutable place. It took a lot of what I call “convincing-by-disaster” for people to believe we really could wreck it that much.
But this Seattle paper was trying to talk about it, and they did a little sidebar piece about what Seattle would look like once the ice caps melted and the whole city was under twenty feet of water. They had a drawing of the Space Needle, this 600 foot tower, half-submerged.
And I looked at that picture, and I thought, “I have no desire to see that. None.” That was the first time I didn’t want to live forever.
But you don’t have to live forever to see a lot of things you never hoped to see.
So why am I glad I’m still around? Why am I glad I’ve got at least another 10 years – though I’m determined not to go until Pamela and Paula do. The show-offs.
Because as everything we’d been warned about started to happen, as the world cracked, so did our hearts. And when your heart cracks, you can either die of grief, duct tape it together and solider on, or you can let all those cracks and open spaces get filled up by love. It’s like cracks in cement. Water gets in there, and things start to grow. Life happens in those cracks. The same is true for us, and it’s an amazing thing to see.
Things could have gotten so much worse. But we finally woke up. We finally got startled and scared by the idea that we are just a bunch of critters living on one tiny, miraculous rock in space and we have absolutely nowhere else to go. We finally realized how much we love our little rock, and we finally decided that it was worth being unstintingly selfless and heroic and creative and courageous in order to save it. And ourselves.
And in that moment, we came together as one people. You could feel it in the air. You could see it in the eyes of strangers when you walked down the street. As scared as we were, there was also a kind of marvelous, miraculous determination which settled in. We really and truly changed. We grew up. We adopted, as a global people, that beautiful old Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam – repairing the world. We made it our creed, our manifesto, our purpose.
It’s like some kind of Zen parable – having the thing you want least to see result in the thing you want most to see. I don’t understand why it has to happen this way but that’s Life for you. And we’ve still got such a long way to go. But I’ll keep watching and keep pitching in – bearing witness and bearing the load – until it’s time for my new suit of clothes and another great adventure.