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Some surprises catch you like a whisper. Gentle, soft, reassuring. You’re taken off guard but somehow feel like this is how things are supposed to be.
I was swimming laps in my own head, trapped in the current of thoughts I can’t stop. Bogged down by memory and fear, I feel the heavy claustrophobia that comes along with pondering the largeness of life.
Feeling squelched, unmotivated, and exhausted, I take a wander down some well-worn backroads and ramble in to a family gathering where searching eyes of distant relatives land on me in that haven’t-seen-you-in-forever kind of way.
The day is full of pleasantries and smiles, shaking old lotiony hands and listening to unfunny jokes and pretending to laugh as if Steve Martin just stepped into the room.
The town is small and bubbling with life that hasn’t moved. A well. Not stagnate, but still. They’re ranchers, shop owners, hard workers, and up-before-the-sun-is land tenders.
There is something about their steadiness that steadies me. My smile turns real. I am filled with the warmth of hope when I catch a story of an older woman. In her 70s, she’s touched so many lives and overcome so many fears. Could she ever know the magnitude of her own life?
I listen, in awe. She’s unfolding tales and unraveling memories as if they are a tangle of yarn. Stitching memory to joke to hope, I see the quilted pattern of her heart. And the tapestry before me has taken time.
A thought swells inside me and I latch onto it as if it were a life-preserver tossed into the sea of my doubt: I want to live a long life.
The thought turns to hope and the hope turns to desire, churning in within me and ringing out all else that doesn’t fit anymore.
I want to live a long life.
Will, I too, one day be in my 70s with a shade of lipstick a little too dark, using my wrinkled hands to weave before my audience a tapestry of all that makes me human?
I start drifting happily, entertaining the thought, when he comes up to me as a long, tall, curly wisp of a man. He shakes my hand and makes a joke that I take literally. I make an astute comment and he laughs, his laughter warm and jubilant and strong. “I was joking,” he said, and my face flushed red.
He’s a relative strung on to our family thread in a long, rambling kind of way and perhaps I met him when I was a child. He introduces himself to me and we get to chatting as old people do, although I am still quite young.
He eventually catches a conversation with my mom that I am able to hear. She asks him if he is still working, doing the thing she’s always remembered him to do. He says emphatically, “Oh, yes. It’s the only thing I know how to do!” And something in me smiles at that.
Before we leave, he promises to keep in contact and says, “But I don’t carry a smart phone—hey, I don’t even carry a dumb phone!” and then that laughter again, filling the air between us like a cloud of prayed-for rain.
As I travel back home, I feel weightless and brewing with new love. Love for the simple things, love for the gentleness of people who are living their best life even if that best life isn’t the most exciting one.
Because in order to live a long life, sometimes you just have to keep doing the only thing you know how to do.