I’m on my second airplane of the day. After over three years of delay, I’m bound for Alaska. Back in 2020, I canceled an Alaska trip when I realized the pandemic had trounced my big plans to celebrate my last year in my 60’s with a two-week sea/land adventure. After that unfortunate situation, I wasn’t certain I’d ever have an opportunity to get this experience. At the time the birthday balloon popped in 2020, the excellent trip insurance I thought I had, covered basically everything, everything that is but a pandemic. I lost a chunk of my fully-paid-for trip to the cruise ship company. Over the past few years, they kept reminding me that I had a future cruise credit available. However, the rising costs of virtually everything during the recent inflationary time, including the price of Alaska cruises, made for a big crimp in my already-stretched travel budget. As time was winding down to that moment when the credit would expire, I did a lot of thinking. There was no economic pathway to the elaborate two week trip I’d planned in 2020. But I’m in my early 70’s, still healthy enough to travel. How long will that be true? Who knows? I decided to set my sights a little lower. I could get myself a one-week Alaska trip with a few off-ship excursions which would get me close to the wildlife piece of the 2020 adventure without the cost of a second week. I knew I needed to go for it, in keeping with the promise I made to myself years ago, about making sure to live as regret-free a life as possible. This trip will leave me with only one unvisited state out of fifty in the U.S. As someone who only took one vacation until my adult life, I never thought I’d be able to have traveled to so many far-flung places. But here I am, en route to the last three of the unvisited four spaces left on my home map. How lucky.
As I bump along on the plane, I realize that I’ve recently ended an era in my life. Once there was the childhood era. Then there came a young, single woman time. Next came a love and partnership period, followed, after a decade or so, by parenthood. My thirties and forties were important periods of personal growth. I was a lover, a wife, a mom, a friend and a professional. I was a sibling, a cousin and a daughter, shifting roles with my parents, dad dying when I wasn’t fully evolved, but working on it. When I hit the next era, in my fifties, I was getting really comfortable with virtually every part of me. I liked that time a lot. I became a grandmother near the end of that decade. I was barely into my sixties when I was caregiving that first new grandkid, my aging mother and ultimately, my husband whose cancer arrived during that first year of my seventh decade on this planet. From there it was the expected and completely unexpected era which included the death of my brother and my mother, and the seesawing health of my precious partner which ultimately ended with his death. No asteroid has hurtled into my world, at least not yet. But all the same, the past dozen years or so certainly have been a unique era, marked by loss, huge mental and emotional adjustments, and eventually, a re-tooling of myself. I have managed to get through all the changes which have stripped me down internally until I could reassemble myself, scars and all, into the current me. This newish version of the pared-down and yet full-blown self that is me, will likely be the last iteration in my evolution, from a child to the absolutely adult woman I am today. My last era. I think my role as a caregiver will finally ebb as my time with providing significant support for my nine-month-old granddaughter is ending soon. My son’s family will soon be moving a thousand miles away, precluding that almost daily care. Haven’t I been the fortunate one? I’ve given my best to this time. I’ve been so glad for the opportunity of helping nurture a new little person who I’ve thoroughly loved. But now they’re traveling and I’m off on this adventure, a stepping off point for this next segment of my life. I have no particular roadmap for what’s next. When I was a kid in elementary school, one feature on the report cards sent home quarterly, was titled “makes good use of time.” I think that’s just what I want to do, make good use of whatever time is left to me.
The other day my daughter-in-law asked me if I often think of death, as I frequently reference that topic in conversation. I answered yes, but the truth is, my thinking about death is nothing new. When you grow up insecure about your parents’ health, you never feel as if time is stretching out interminably. I was usually scared when I was growing up, recognizing that life could abruptly end. That part of my history is always in my head. Thankfully, for me, it’s not crippling, but rather a motivating tool for staying active, continuing to learn, and for not getting stale. Those are my general goals. Getting on with my interests and trying something new. Here’s the first new one. I recently had a conversation with a good friend who was annoyed with the vacuous nature of social media, with people using this resource primarily to display only the best parts of themselves, the smiling faces, the happy times, the great places. I thought about what she said for several days. I realized I’ve never deliberately shared an unattractive photo of myself. And then I thought, why not? I don’t want to be one-dimensional. I recently found that the camera my daughter gave me to photograph birds visiting my feeders is so sensitive to motion, that it caught me moving around my garden, hot, sweaty and unposed as I went about my work. I saved those pictures to share as a more accurate representation of me as I go through a normal day. So here they are. Something new.
I’ve been thinking about the art in my house. Michael and I, both frequent visitors to Chicago’s Art Institute, each had a hand in choosing prints to hang throughout our home, particularly after attending an exhibition there which featured one of our favorites. During the last few years I’ve been expanding my knowledge of painters from centuries past to artists currently engaged in creating. Right now, I’m in a transition period, adding new little pieces of art to my personal space, particularly from local creators, as well as hanging my own photos on the walls. I took an inventory of those older pieces before I left on my trip, to think about whether I might want to replace some of them when I return. Putting old friends away isn’t easy though. These paintings below have been comforting companions to me for a long time.
As I jounce along on this airplane, yes, I’m musing about unposed pictures of me and art. I’m thinking about how many books are on my to-read list. I’m thinking about how I love to look at my daughter’s face. That I will really miss seeing my son pull into my driveway on his bicycle when he comes over to work out in my garage. I’m thinking about how to keep my garden alive if the droughty conditions keep getting worse. I’m thinking how amazing it was to spend hours with Michael, just silently staring at each other. And how amazing it is that I can still feel him now. I’m wondering if I’ll see whales in Alaska and how long I’ll be physically competent. Up here in this tin can, time feels different. What will I be doing in a few days? What will I be doing in a few months? And how many years are left? I’m musing about the luxury of musing and feeling grateful to be doing okay. What a luxurious interlude.