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arved

”TIME.” Painting by my grandson when he was 10 years old.

 

Basically our family milestones are dates of births, graduations, weddings, divorces, retirements and deaths - roughly in that order. Not too many to remember, at least not one’s own.

 

Last Thursday morning at 7:45 AM, while I was still half asleep, my wife asked me what day it was. I mumbled something like “I don’t know, why?” She persisted: “What day is THIS?” After a couple guesses it dawned on me, (expletive deleted), it was Thursday and I had forgotten to put the garbage bag out last night! I raced to the kitchen, grabbed the bag, delivered it to the curb side and quickly returned to bed.

 

Still she was not satisfied, she repeated: “What day…?” Then, eureka! I spurted out: “I know it is our wedding annversary!” After several guesses I got right the number of years: 49 years!

 

I am prepared for situations like this. In my nightstand I had two envelopes with musical greetings cards. I opened the first and as I lifted the cover of the card, a song rang out: “Happy birthday to…” Wrong envelope! The second card sprung open with Aretha Franklin singing: “Thank you, thank you…” It saved my day! (Advice to the reader: Consider saving your anniversary and birthday cards and reusing them next year when in a pinch. Rarely anyone remembers a year later what a card said. Worked for me!)

 

As I reached complete consciousness I became aware how ordered my life is. My two weddings, both occurred in the last week of the month and also my one divorce. This makes it easy to figure that I have enjoyed marital bliss fora total of exactly 59 years in two marriages, of course not at the same time but in sequence and with a respectable two-year interval between them. My oldest son’s birthday is in the same week, thus it is easy to figure out how old he is. And his wedding also occurred on the same week. Only my younger son’s birthday is out of sync of this grouping of events; I timed it to give me an income tax deduction that provided maximum benefit and thus occurred after Christmas. Poor kid! He gets fever gifts than had the birthday and Christmas been further apart.

 

Two days later we sang happy birthday to our older son’s answering machine as we waited for the arrival of our two grandsons flying in just for one full day to be with us oldies – for our wedding anniversary. How flattering. We had a great sunny day at 75 F listening to 1960’s jazz in an outdoor restaurant. 

 

In a way, our other kin were also present, with reminders all around us. Later at home we drank coffee from mugs with pictures of our non-present grandkids and we toasted our son’s birthday drinking spark-ling wine from crystal glasses that our younger son had sent us while serving in Okinawa, this all while sitting under a painting painted for us by our daughter-in-law.

 

What binds us or separates us are memories of past events. Art provides us with props that kindle images of places and events witnessed or just imagined. The importance of visual art is amazing. Art of biblical scenes painted in the middle ages ushered in the era of Renaissance in Europe. The artists produced paintings with imagined scenes that could not have any possible relationship to reality. In the process, they created an imaginary past through which it was possible for ordinary people to relate to the myths and claims of popes and kings.

 

We want and need a glorious past but what we want to remember is not always honest. We pick and choose what suits us. I prefer recording my own important events with photos. Photos don’t lie. These will anchor what really occurred. I have always taken lots of photos, (which drove my first wife nuts.) Unfortunately many of the photos stored on my PC were lost due to computer crashes and the colors of earlier slides had faded. However, of the ones I was able to retrieve, I compiled a 15 minute DVD covering milestones of my life. It was nice to share this with our grands. Note: 15 minutes is the limit of slideshow duration given the shrinking attention span of our younger generation. 

 

How do we determine the age of milestones? We do this by recording the number of times our Mother Earth has circled the Sun since the event. Seems arbitrary, yet is convenient. If the time span thus determined is too short we double the years. My overseas relatives celebrate only every fifth birthday – a necessity with large families. If my memory serves me right, the ancient Mayans reclad their pyramids after every 28 years, but the basic unit of measurement was still the year. Should we colonize Mars, we will revise the calendar, but probably will still base it on the time it takes Mars to make the journey around our Sun. It takes 88% longer for Mars to orbit the Sun than for our Earth, thus their seasons would be longer by that amount than ours. But the days and nights are essentially the same length as on earth.

 

Statistics show that the typical life span of sapiens is around seventy Earth’s rotations around the Sun. After which looms the inevitable for which each of us, sapiens, should prepare by getting our houses in order. I have decided to take only part of Dylan Thomas’ dubious advice: ‘Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright, my frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, now I must not go gentle into that good night, and in my old age should burn and rave at close of day; rage, rage against the dying of the light, and set at last all wrongs right.’ (Paraphrased slightly) 

 

Yes, set all wrongs right but rage? Really? I feel tired. Years have squeezed out of me the vitality that once drove me, it sounds irresponsible for me to rage. I must prepare myself calmly for the end: determine who will get my match box collection, or who will water my lilies. Preparation for the inevitable finish requires me to scribe my wishes to avoid the final memory of the surviving kin to be the act of dividing the things hoarded by me lovingly over a lifetime and now left regretfully behind.

 

The preparation must include admitting my wrongs, explaining the slights, and apologizing for arrogance, so they do not cloud the memories of the people I care about after the final departure. For some friends it is too late to acknowledge their milestones. Their memory has dimmed and I have waited too long. The discussion with my first love of the impact of “The Grapes of Wrath,” and the implications of Raymond Dart’s find of the 750,000 year old Taung hominid scull will never be concluded. 

 

Yes, the years have dimmed also my memory. The fire is going out, the rage is tamed and maybe it really does not even matter. The departure really just provides another milestone for my next of kin to remember me for a while. There is no energy left for hate or discontent. The last push will have to be expended to find peace and contentment in preparation for the long dreamless night. I do this by writing.

 

Arved Plaks

June 2018,

Texas

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