It always happens in the shower. As if the shower stall doors enclose me briefly into a time warp machine. One in which you have to be naked.
Steam rises like a phoenix from my back and I trace spirals and the loopy cursive names of my children on the dewy glass doors. My mind meanders as my muscles loosen. Water whispers to me of Birth. And inevitably Birth leads me down the road to Death.
Having now mastered “sitting” (it always occurs to me, watching babies, that we are still just animals), Lyric plays with a few toys on the carpet a mere ten feet from the shower. He keeps his eyes on me, waiting for the times I swab my palms on the doors to create an opening in my portal. One in which he can see me. It is through this portal that the idea of mortality strikes.
Something about seeing his tiny, sitting body and the way his sister is singing to him – viewing them from afar as if watching a movie reel – reminds me that these times pass so quickly. Too quickly. Blink one eye and they are starting school. Blink the other and they are graduating.
You become a mother and stare into your children’s eyes and there will suddenly be this moment that you are staring into the iris of mortality and death. It will shock you, the intensity in which it seems to crack you in half; your heart unzipping itself layer by layer to the sound of one lone violin.
I came to a morbid-sounding realization recently and I’m not sure how I feel about it. I’ve left it draped over the back of a chair to stew and dangle for a while, since it’s difficult for me to digest.
I realized that from the moment we are born we begin the process of dying.
It seems simple, really. Perhaps logical. Or at least BIOlogical. But held on the tip of my mother-heart it feels tragic. And how shitty is that, really? To be pushed into this new realm, fresh and fragile and dependent, only to figure out you are walking the road to Death.
And I guess I had this unconscious notion that after we were born we LIVED. We grew and flourished and that at some undetermined point in time on that continuum we suddenly began to die. I think in my head I’d assumed that was in your 50’s or so. But then I became a mother and realized that it was THEN. In that moment of transformation, you become both Mother and Crone. You are both bearer of life and usher of death. It is only then, the times that I’ve been honorably re-crowned Mother, that I ever truly feel mortal. There is both a quake of acceptance and gratitude and a tremble of fear at this realization.
In the gasp of one moment you hold tight to your babies and make hushed statements like “I will have to leave you someday….”
You realize you’ve brought life into the world so that it could….die.
That feels bold. Almost unethical. A responsibility of cosmic proportions.
All of this is not meant to be morbid or devastating. It has simply been a realization, a process, an unwrapping.
I am learning to sit with it as if it were a guest in my home. On occasion, I scoop it gently from the back of the chair and offer it a soft space on my sofa. I prop it up with pillows and pull up close and we are mostly silent in our exchange. It doesn’t feel obligated to wipe away my gently rolling tears.
There is much to be learned from a quiet guest.
I turned 34 this month and this revolution around the sun has me feeling more mortal than ever. Three kids, saggy skin, veiny hands, and gray hairs don’t help with that notion. It was just these past months that I first realized I had laugh lines. We are going to call them that instead of wrinkles. And my double chin is becoming more evident with the birth of each child; a sweet little souvenir of my pregnancy weight gain.
Sometimes I ponder what it will feel like to age. I wonder will I still feel like “me” but just in a different body?
I picture myself in my grand golden years and here is what my image becomes…
I am sitting on a cozy porch in a rocking chair, surrounded by wind chimes and hummingbirds. My long white hair is pinned to the top of my head, but wisps of it blow in the breeze. The cup of chamomile and peppermint tea is warm in my bony hands. A few drips dribble joyfully from my chin as I slurp dramatically. The knobby knit of my cardigan sweater is well-worn and snugly. My husband is reading in the chair next to me, but he is probably actually napping. I can still feel the bones in my body shift as I remember giving birth to my children. The image of our first gaze – me and my babes – sits on the threshold of my mind’s eye and tears still form in the corners of my body’s eyes. The wind holds their giggles and the warmth of the sun is like their small bodies wrapped around mine as we nursed in bed. The clouds above me spell out lyrics to songs that live deep in me; all of the verses have the word Love in them.
“Aging is good”, I say to myself. “This life has been good. This life is still good.” The thought of Death becomes as easy as breath; I give it no extra thought or weight. I simply trust that this Big Idea all works out. That The Plan will unroll its treasure map out before me on brilliant red parchment and gold lettering. I remember repeating “We birth as we live and live as we birth”.
But this time, I say “We die as we live and live as we die”.
And, like a well-mannered guest always does, I nod and respond with “Thank You for inviting me. I had a fantastic time. Let’s do it again soon”.