Sunday, February 10, 2013

Incidents and Accidents

On Monday a friend's husband suffered a stroke.  He is in critical condition, but he is fighting.  On Thursday a colleague's 25-year-old daughter died.  Last month an 8-year-old boy who attended the school at which I work contracted a strep infection that invaded his bloodstream.  Within 24 hours he was dead.  A blogger friend's husband has been diagnosed with cancer.  Another blogger friend's mother has just died.  Two days ago, during the blizzard in New England, a father tucked his son into a running car to keep the child warm while he shoveled.  The vehicle's exhaust pipe was blocked by snow.  The kid died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Such things have always happened.  For me to believe that they are occurring more frequently would be hubris.  It is only that the older I get, the more attuned I am to accident, injury, disease, death.

And aging.  I watch a man on television with whom I happened to grow up, and I wonder, "Do I look as old, or as young, as he does?"  Of course I do -- he is only five months older than I (Arndt, Sarah; Cooper, Anderson, as we were listed then, in elementary school).  But when I look in the mirror, I see my young self, because she is who I saw first and, possibly, who I know best.

At 95 years old my grandmother had a pruny face.  Yet when she gazed at herself through cataract-riddled, watery eyes, I imagine that she saw a flapper with a string of pearls and mischievous cornflower blue eyes.

I am getting used to the fact of aging, to the incidents and accidents, because I must.  If you're around long enough, if you keep your eyes open, you really have no choice, do you?  But at the same time I will never get used to any of it.  So much is luck or its lack, so much is random.

Paradoxically we humans are not programmed to handle randomness.  We see a group of dots; we turn them into a figure of a dog.  The stars become bears or hunters.  We sense the contours of our limbs long after they have been taken from us.  We are made to discover order where there is disorder, structure where there's none.  We are designed to feel: to sympathize, empathize, suffer, ache, grieve.

And sometimes that last seems the cruelest joke of all.

10 comments:

De said...

The main thing I learned from working with hospice was that I don't want to show up at the end (of my life or anyone else's) unaware. As much as you experience this awareness as painful or uncomfortable, having it sneak up is so much worse.

Janet said...

I see that elementary child too. Unfortunately, my elementary self was awkward and gawky, and because that was the image seared in my mind, I missed the years when I grew out of it and got fairly pretty. So now I see the 50-year-old in the mirror, and the 12-year-old in my head, and the pictures of the 25-year-old seem like they are of someone else.

Heather said...

It does seem like more bad news lately, but I suspect you're right, we're just more in tune to it.

V-Grrrl @ Compost Studios said...

I lost my parents and sister when I was relatively young and nearly all my aunts and uncles are gone now (and I had two dozen). With that generation gone, I know my generation is next. It's like watching movie credits and seeing your name scroll closer to the top and off the screen.

Magpie said...

I know - my self-image is not what I see in the mirror.

Mary Gilmour said...

I see a stranger in the mirror. And stranger's hands doing the tasks I set them. But I am with De on the awareness.

Now you should list five unusually good things that have happened lately. Bet you can!

Christine said...

I am the middle-age woman who cries when I read the news. I see age and failure and loss every time I look in the mirror. And so it goes...

gorillabuns said...

I think of myself as a slim 25-year-old. When I see pictures of me, I gasp and wonder who this fat stranger is in print.

Death and destruction is all around. No one, I mean no one, escapes from it's crappy sense of humor.

Amie Adams said...

I'm still reeling from the fact that you know AC. And I don't think he looks old. I thought he was younger than me by at least five years--and you and I are close in age.

Part of me hopes to see the young woman, but then again I don't know that I've always been the kindest to my own reflection. I hope someday to look in the mirror and just smile.

And PS--I AM SO FREAKING GLAD you are writing again!!

alejna said...

One of the things that I love about your writing, Sarah, is that you write things that I think about long after I read them. I love that penultimate paragraph, about not being programmed to see randomness. As someone who is always finding patterns, or creating patterns where none are, this really spoke to me. I love the way you connected our need to find patterns with our need to feel. I'm fascinated by this.

On another note, shortly after signing up for FB, I got a friend request from a man who looked completely unfamiliar to me. Looking at his profile, I saw that we were in junior high together. I thought to myself, "I don't remember going to junior high with a middle-aged man!"