October 30, 2011
In my mind, it begins as Thanksgiving approaches. Holidays bring a season of hope, but tempered by the recognition of loss. How ironic that the two coexist. We recently had an October near-blizzard. Trees and homes, anything stationary and standing enjoyed a blanket of white that called up memories of sleds and school being called off. The air was full of driving snow as we set off to buy bushels of apples for our ritual homemade apple sauce.
Driving was treacherous, and when we pulled up to the apple warehouse, Meredith warned me that I better wait in the car. “You will never make it through the slush,” she told me. Every cell in my body wanted to brave it. I knew what kinds of apples to select, how hard or ripe they should be. More to the point, choosing the apples is half the fun. The rest is hard work.
Our recipe and tradition came from my family. I wanted to take charge, but a pretty loud internal voice advised me to sit still. We were reduced to cell phone contact as Meredith cruised the open air barn in search of other treats. I was stuck in the front seat, still with my seatbelt fastened. I could not even find the radio station I wanted.
Kids were laughing as they negotiated the slushy path. All I could think was, another one gone. My life is punctuated by what I used to do as I no longer can live up to memory. Making applesauce is a big messy undertaking. Apples must be washed and quartered, stems removed. My family has forbidden me from taking butcher knife to apple. Unsteady hands and failing vision have made the task risky business. Apple sauce and blood do not mix so well.
We have opted to keep our ancient food mill, forgoing the ease of electricity for the old fashioned challenge of the hand turned blade. This year I was horrified to realize I no longer have the power in my arm to turn the crank. Once again, the task had to be handed off.
There was a pumpkin scented candle burning, a roaring fire in the hearth. And there is nothing like the smell of applesauce coming together to remind anyone what time of year it is. Our kids coming home from college soon, and even our oldest living in China making the annual pilgrimage. All brought warmth to our lives.
Our final visit with my old man had been in the midst of winter festivities. I cannot stop myself from taking stock of my own deterioration in these moments. I am in bad shape, but my life is so full. A happy and successful family with bright futures couple with my own satisfaction of past achievements and current projects. My life is not sad, determined as sometimes I appear to be to see it as so.
I have lost so much. I have so much. I continually remind myself that who I am is in my head. That is my true identity. I no longer drive or walk more than a block, read voluminously or cook. That is sad. Okay. That is out of the way now. What I can do is think and write, perhaps making more of my brain than ever before. I am deeply involved in the lives of my wife and grown children. In a way it seems nothing less than criminally self-indulgent to focus on loss.
I have written about individuals with horrible diseases that will take them away from us soon enough. My friend and former colleague is dying of a deadly brain tumor. What am I complaining about? I expect to be here next year. All of us live with what is mysteriously if not arbitrarily handed to us.
We will never explain or understand how it is we end up on the roads we must travel. Thinking it to death is pointless. “Get out of your head,” a shrink once wisely advised. Just live your life, I remind myself. Do not try to make sense of life. This is getting tedious. I have more constructive tasks ahead.