I keep having this vision. Part trite and part hopeful, it's vividness hasn't escaped me for some months now.
I'm seventy years old, laying on a rickety mattress somewhere in the world, holding Kari's ever increasingly dainty hand. We are close to the sea, perhaps in a beat up cabin off the coast somewhere. She is laying next to me and we're laughing, giggling actually, about who knows what. Our aged bodies are weak and I can feel the fragility of my bones as I lay in bed, doing my best not to cough while I laugh. We are staring at the worn ceiling, with its cracks and spots and rugged beauty. The wind blows in from the open windows, the ceiling fan spins in vein.
We have very little in terms of money, or property or even possessions. Our will is somewhat laughable, which is precisely what we may be giggling about. We seemed to have stripped our decades of life and homes and living room furniture and tools and cars and trips down to a few unglamorous belongings. There are the books of course, which I hold dear, clinging to the Steinbecks and Chabons for how they made me feel and what they taught me about life. There are the postcards and patches, those increasingly significant collections that have been slowly growing since my boyhood, since my first trip to the Astrodome and my inaugural passport stamp. They remind me of my Father and Mother, who quietly pushed me onto the earth's edge, telling me it was okay if I didn't look back. There are a few paper pictures, still attached to handmade frames, each nearly equal in significance. There is the one of my three sisters and I with our Father, sitting in front of a cabin, all wearing funny faces. There are several of Kari and I through the years, the picture always taken by my outstretched hand, camera looking down on our sheepish grins. There are too many of the kids, way too many, because neither of us have the guts to let go of them, each one carrying a memory of one kind or another. There are other pictures perhaps, my vision only taking me so far.
Our kids are grown and gone and I miss them dearly. We worked at letting them go from the time our first daughter took off across the park without looking back, as if she would cross the city before noticing. Even now, as they have their own lives, own families, own traditions, there own way of doing Christmas, letting go is no easy task. I ask myself where the time went, and I can't believe I have fallen so hard into cliche. The kids turned out exactly like I thought and nothing like I thought, another one of life's complications, which after all this time seems appropriate and inevitable.
I glance over at Kari, her hair thin and short, and feel our aloneness. Through decades of spending time with family, of friends dropping in an out, of moving from one home to the next, here we are. Just the two of us. Alone together in a small room, fifty years after first bumping into each other. I can suddenly feel the weight of this one decision, the act of throwing myself into this spirited and tender woman so many years ago.
My influence on the world around me, after decades of depositing here and there, is mostly insubstantial. I left no great mark, especially considering the mark I thought I was going to leave in my early twenties. Between family and work and friends and the occasional walk to the theater, there simply wasn't enough time to do something grand. Simplicity and widespread influence never seemed to mix very well for me.
As I lay there, hands now folded together and resting on my chest, contemplating my past, mulling over the joys and heartaches, considering my life as I remember it, I am suddenly overcome by a comforting thought.
I am content.