“A brand new baby was born yesterday, just in time.”
(J. Johnson, If I Could)
A brand new baby was born yesterday, just in time… Her name is Louisa, and that is a perfect name, particularly if you have an affinity for L’s, and your first child was to be Lila, but instead was Lloyd.
Louisa’s surname is that of our road because 4 generations of her family live along it, and now I will always remember her coming–in the week that I turned 50; and I will always remember her age, 50 years younger than I.
That is a sobering thought.
A half century separates us. And no doubt before she reaches my age, I will be gone.
She is a newborn and I am a half of a century old. (I realize I am repeating myself.)
Timelines come to mind. The one’s on your desk at school; the ones to practice skip counting with… by 5’s or 10’s or…
But I’m not thinking about that today.
Today my focus is on being 49, and on looking back at the half-century before.
I’ve written a tribute to my 40’s,
and now I turn my attention to my 20’s, where no doubt time will challenge the recounting…
Some moments stand out however, without needing much dusting:
The climax of that decade for me would be–25–the year I came to realize that I wasn’t immortal.
I’ve thought about that year often because as I approach 50, I’ve realized the other side of that coin: mortality.
(I wonder what 75 might bring…)
I hardly remember my 21st birthday because it wasn’t the big deal that it is now since you were old enough to go to bars at 18.
I do however remember receiving 21 white roses from my father; but I’m certain that it was my stepmother who arranged for those; before she was my stepmother. (She also sent me a spa day when I turned 40 so I’m waiting with baited breath…)
I remember 29, clearly, because I lost my first baby at that age. I was about 3 months pregnant, and that impact reeled into my 30s.
At 26, I got married. At 22, I fell radically in love, but first I had my heart broken, crushed and pulverized. At 23, I shacked up as a ski bum in Colorado. At 24, I ended a career in restaurant management that began before 20.
At 25, not only did I realize that I wasn’t immortal, but I was also blindsided by something bigger: baby hunger. Completely unexpected. Unplanned. And Uninvited.
At 20, I lost everything. My family as I knew it. Our family home. My parents. (They didn’t die. They just evacuated what had been “ours.”)
The year after that I traveled abroad for the first time, exponentially expanding my world while it continued to collapse beneath me.
I traveled to Europe two more times in my twenties and never got enough of foreign culture and new experiences. (Though it would be another two decades before I would have the opportunity to travel again.)
I reluctantly became a teacher in my twenties, and found myself giddily happy at it, until a decade later when I became a cliche: “burn out.”
I spoke at my grandfather’s funeral at 27, in the year after he danced at my wedding. I stood up in a huge church and took my place behind a podium and looked grief straight in the eye, and said: WAIT. First, I must speak about this man. And to my surprise, grief waited.
I found God again that week, not in the obvious places, but in the music. What is fascinating about that timing is that it was my grandmother‘s untimely death a decade earlier that took God from me, while my grandfather’s more timely passing returned God.
I buried my great-grandmother at 28. I rode the ferry across the Delaware Bay to see her as much as I could that summer, and I rubbed her legs underneath the hospital blankets, and told her how much I loved her.
At the funeral, in a tiny country church, I sat beside a seventy year-old woman who whispered to me that she had been a third-grader in my Nana’s classroom. “We had so much fun,” she said. “But she was strict. I once got a detention for looking out the window.” (In my memory that chapel becomes the classroom, and I do my best not to look out the window.)
Nana had been the one to introduce me to the world through her atlas, in which she had circled each place she traveled, and which now sits on my desk. She also lent me her bold voice, sending me off to college with these words written in a letter: “With the temptations so great for the young these days, I hope your husband will not find you second hand.”
Nana’s warning was too late, but her spirit was not wasted. She continued talking to me throughout my twenties… of her own coming of age, of vocation, of sex, of marriage, of raising children, of travel, of facing loss and of facing her own death as she entered her nineties.
I remember her lying down on her back every day because she had fallen off a train at 50.
At the time, 50 seemed impossibly far away–for both of us.
And now, we meet there…