Tag Archives: nature of life

A Last Time for Everything

Why isn’t there some sort of class or required reading that warns you, early on, about the nature of life? About loving. And losing. Longing. Living anyway. Something should teach us to pay attention because there’s going to be an end one day: A last kiss. Last words spoken. A last time you’re all together. A smile that disappears off the planet. A last night before the life you believed was yours gets devoured by the first morning of a completely different existence. All the precious bits and pieces of who you are, and what you thought you owned and controlled, are subject to change at any moment. Nobody warns you about this. Then one day you get clobbered. There ought to be something that gently whacks you over the head, an alert that everything, all of it, is only temporary.

My sister’s birthday brought my Mom and me, both of my sisters, a long-lost-then-found-again childhood friend, and another dear friend-of-the-birthday-girl together this weekend. We drank lots of wine and ditched our diets in celebration. And I kept wondering how many birthdays, how many summers, how much more of the good stuff could we possibly have coming to us?

This summer I’ve been showing up at my mother’s house almost every weekend. There, I can be a daughter again, a daughter helping out and being doted on by her mom. That was a role I needed to escape decades ago. But now I’m drawn back to it. Someday, I know, I will no longer be able to slip into my daughterliness any time I want.

For the birthday weekend, I was once again part of a set of three daughters living under one roof. We whispered and plotted out of earshot of our Mom, pretending we were kids once more like before colleges, husbands, and babies scattered us off into our different lives. I can’t count on always having sisters getting together for birthdays.

It’s great to be alive; it sucks that we’re alive for such a brief while. I go back and forth between being grateful and miserable about this, and continue to party like there’ll always be a next time. So cheers to the birthday girl, to Mom, to sisters and friends. Let’s toast to life! It’s beautiful. Sad. And gone before you get to know it.

Does anyone else go around marking in your mind all the sweet moments, thinking, this may be the last time?

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Another Precious Summer, Training for Life

Sixteen summers ago, in June, when peonies bowed their heavy heads, wispy clouds wafted over the still lake at Camp Scatico in Elizaville, New York. It was early morning a few weeks before camp would open, and that year’s new group of lifeguards was in training. Polar bear swim. To get a head start I ran into the lake first, breaking the calm surface into ripples. Two great blue herons suddenly soared up out of the mist. They flew over me, and before I could shout, “Look,” the other lifeguards, decades younger than I, splashed noisily by with great speed and strength. They swam all the way to some far marker and back again, twice leaving me in their wake. But that didn’t matter. Even then, I knew it was the beginning of a new journey. For me.

Two months before, I had turned fifty. Always afraid of drowning, I’d never dreamed of becoming a lifeguard. In order to afford to send my kids to camp though, I’d taken a job as a hiking counselor, and then the camp had me trained and certified. I spent the next four summers hiking and lifeguarding. And training. Every time the peonies bloomed I set off for camp for more lifeguarding instruction. It was good training for what was to come later, when my daughter got cancer.

Years after those lifeguarding summers, peonies were just starting to bloom when Marika was first diagnosed and I became her caregiver. Caregiving and lifeguarding were similar. Except with caregiving there was only one life to keep from drowning. And after the first summer with cancer Marika got her own lifeguard certification. Being a cancer survivor and a lifeguard, she knew something about the nature of life. A local camp hired her, but for the next two years, just when peonies perfumed the air, cancer came back. Marika and I were stuck in hospitals. Three whole precious summers lost. And after, there were summers when the peonies were lost; everything beautiful was lost on me. I was living in a downward wafting cloud.

The memoir I’ve been writing for the last six years was, at one point, to be titled Lifeguarding. A friend suggested that Guarding Life would be better. That got me thinking. Because guarding life is what I do now. Life and lives. And time. All bright, fresh, bursting with promise. Mysterious. Fragile. Elusive.

Whenever peonies bloom I get excited about summer, and I remember Camp Scatico where each June they train more lifeguards and leaders. I wish them a brilliant season, and hope these new leaders get to see the herons. My best wishes to all of us for a most magnificent summer.


Where will summer take you this year? Where will you allow yourself to go?



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