I look across the table at Kathy and Brandi, sip my ice tea, and wait for lunch to be served. It is a twice a year ritual, old friends keeping in touch as best we can. They are my former students, now in their mid-twenties, the mainstay of our school’s literary magazine, two enormously talented young women. We bonded immediately, striking a strong friendship over four years and beyond. Creativity has no age requirement. But in the past few years, busy with school, work and romance, neither of them has written much. I want to cry out, caution them, weep if necessary, and show them that time is fleeting. We shall not pass this way again.
Now retired, I realize that I have dabbled with life. I married, bore children, taught school. My house and garden could have been a model for Martha Stewart. I made my daughter’s dresses, cut and permed their hair and dutifully read Dr. Seuss to them and later, with them. I took every detour, even creating my own, playing Miss Nice-Nice in the hope that by fulfilling expectations, I could earn the right to become a writer, all the time fearful that I’d be struck down by the Muse for presumptuous hubris.
My dabbling brought a few rewards – an article here, an essay there, sold for a pittance. It was always interrupted by Sunday school lessons, laundry, cooking and cleaning, my writing pursued only when the chores were done, after others’ needs were met.
Yet, a small body of work began to emerge and I am grateful to have lived long enough to see it happen. I have mellowed and become somewhat philosophical. But I also grieve. The books I might have written at twenty, thirty or forty with passion, currency and bite are gone forever. My thoughts and heart are no longer in that direction.
An artist friend gave up creating stained glass works because she was afraid her infant daughter might be injured by shards carelessly dropped here and there in her studio and throughout the house. Now ten years later, she’s back at it. But at forty-five she sees the world through different lenses. A body of work from her thirties does not exist, and never will.
We can’t know how many young pianists or violinists could have been great musicians, were it not for adolescent hormones or peer pressure canceling out serious practice and devotion. We can’t know how many job promotions or entrepreneurial successes have been sacrificed to household demands or family requirements. As for the seniors of the world, I see too many well-intentioned persons serving spouses or caring for grandchildren, most of whom could make other arrangements if they tried.
Kathy says that after a long hiatus, she has written a poem, perhaps her best ever.
“Recite it, Kathy. Tell us.”
But she can’t remember.
“Then send me a copy.”
She promises, but it never arrives. Did it ever exist?
At twenty-something, her life stretches out before her. Yet it could be shortened by a hurricane or a drunk driver. Even without disaster, in two blinks she will be forty – ancient like her parents, the unproductive years frittered away.
How much writing do I have left in me? Each day I force myself to confront that question as I face a blank monitor. Old habits die hard.
Tomorrow is now. I have to give myself permission to write, and you to sing your song, dance while you can, and celebrate life. To do so, nourishes the soul, thereby enriching us all. To do less is a travesty on whatever gifts we have been given and violates the essence of whom we are, silencing forever the tiny voice inside that says “I am.”