I've been hanging out with my mom these past couple of months. She's 90. Turning 91 exactly one week from today. What nobody ever told her about being 90, is that whenever you tell someone your age they almost always reply with "WOAH!" or some other exclamation of equal shock and awe. She is, at most gatherings, the oldest living person in the room.
I have enjoyed shepherding her around town and I make sure that wherever we go people know she's 90. I say it like a dare, "She's 90! Huh? Right?" and I wait for their amazement, or some free swag that surely must come with being this old. I use it to get into forbidden places, such as the parking lot at the University. "I've got an old lady in here," I say to the attendant and they lift the gate without question and wave us right on through with a smile. I use it as an excuse for why I'm late or why I can't attend or why we should get whatever table we want and why we shouldn't even have to wait like all these other people who AREN'T 90. And then of course there is the handicapped parking pass, which should come free with every 90-year-old. Talk about swag! Downtown parking just got a whole lot easier.
Being 90, almost 91, puts her birth year at 1925. She was born in Little Italy smack dab on Mulberry St. in the middle of Manhattan. I have a photo of her at age one, standing on a cinder street in a multi-layered cotton shift and matching bonnet, with lace up black leather shoes, standing next to a wicker perambulator with big metal wheels. In the background is a pack of young boys playing stickball. In knickers. And little button down wool jackets and matching caps. I could not have photoshopped a more clichéd background if I tried.
This scene is in her lifetime. 90 years ago. And surely I don't need to tell you that Manhattan doesn't look like that anymore. And little boys no longer play stickball. In the street. In knickers.
Ninety. It's old yes. And much has changed since her humble beginnings. But if you think about 90, 90 is only nine x 10. And from my own personal experience, 10 years goes by pretty darn fast.
My own last decade is but a blink. Ten years ago one of my walking, talking humans that I now count on to empty the dishwasher on occasion, didn't even exist. Ten years ago my older sister was alive and now she's gone and soon, if I'm lucky I suppose, I'll be older than her. Ten years ago my oldest child had to be told each night not to forget to brush her teeth -- and right this very minute? She is touring her six-foot self around Europe without any input from me whatsoever. Ten years ago there was a lot I didn't know, and today? I just accept that fact.
Ten years. Woosh. A blink.
I arrived here on this planet 10 x five years ago.
10 x two years ago I had no cell phone and I had yet to make any humans. Now I have four. Ten x three years ago I was living alone for the first time ever and my biggest worry was what to wear and what time to go out on a Friday night. Ten x four years ago I was working diligently on my cursive and wishing I could swing my legs from my desk chair like Judy Stagnitto. Ten x five years ago I was but a tiny babe in arms brought home and introduced all at once to my seven older siblings. Before that I did not exist. Not that I know of anyway.
Woosh. A blink.
We should all be so lucky to live as long as my mom. I should be so lucky to have her live even longer. But when I break it down, the thing nobody ever mentioned, was the fact that what is considered a long life, isn't really that long at all. We are here. We feel so crucial. We make some humans or maybe do some other stuff. Hopefully have some fun like tell a story on a stage. But then, in a blink, woosh, we're done. We are hopefully mourned and missed. But a couple of generations later we are but a yellowing picture on an antique shop's wall.
Some might think it's morbid but perhaps, instead, it's freeing. We're important yes, but we're not all that.
There is a quote from Wings of Desire that has been echoing in my head for three x 10 years now, "I have a hard time believing that I who am I, did not exist before I came to be. And that I who am I will cease to exist, when I stop being me."
In the meantime, just like the visitor maps everywhere tell us, We Are Here.
And I for one am pretty happy about that.