THIS DAY ONLY always felt like a day that belonged to others. Now he feels it - age pushing down on him like gravity suddenly doubled its strength. “Only old men think about such things,” he thought, caught off guard by his thinking of age and how short life now looks.
What matters - that’s all that matters now.
His hands look of time and strain, shackled by time keeping count. Lines cut deeper into his hands revealing time more accurately than the slipping watch wrapping around his thinner wrist. All these things stand out more.
Down the aisle he shuffles, mostly lost in memories of days disappeared. His briefcase swings off his slumped shoulder with the rhythm of an effected gait. Of course he knew he’d grow old, but he never figured age would feel this way - the guilt, the fear, the tiredness and sentimentalism and loneliness. “The golden years . . . what a cruel joke!” he muttered as he slumped into his seat. Years and careers have grown thick, separating the family that remains.
Family hasn’t been the same since losing his wife of 26 years to a long, taking bout with the C. They don’t speak much of it directly, only look at pictures during the holidays and smile at a kept distance. She wasn’t one of those women who singlehandedly held the family together, but she was his piece of completion. Life dimmed to half bright since that day and all the family felt it as the kids watched their father lose more than a wife, but his way. The charismatic bounce in his words flattened and so did his faith. All you had to do was talk to him for a few minutes to tell that he wasn’t the same man who believed the day was for taking. No, that day had taken too much for him to have enough to reach for anything more. Loss will do this to people. Bore right out of them all that was settled and accepted, leaving a void mysterious and unfair. Like people halved they walk on empty, clumsy and unknown.
This is mostly who his kids now know. This is the second loss suffered. One dies suddenly and the other lost and unfound dies again and again. There’s a way out that not everyone finds, or accepts. Either way, lost is disorienting the longer you stay still. It’s been years now and friends have faded. His kids try, but life twists and turns with complications of five hour drives, aging kids and blooming careers. A little boy quizzically pops up from the seat in front of him as the stewardess unenthusiastically goes through the motion of placing the breathing mask over her head. He remembers that look on the boy’s face - half smile, all curious. His son was such a handful of a boy who adored his dad’s time and attention. All the camping adventures and walks through the woods behind their family house, that was when his heart was young and courageous and alive. Now, he barely knows how to talk to his grown son whose attention centers around career.
The keys of his laptop are stroked delicately or reluctantly. He only takes halfway to technology and the computer his kids bought for him last Christmas. But still, he strokes slowly the words of eventual truth. He will die. Tenderly, he attends to the keys telling those he loves how to fold his days as neatly as possible. He will die. He seems to have accepted it and so he cares for the words which will carry him beyond the end. This is his last will and testament. How he slow cares about the eventual arriving of death. In a way, his elder heart beats younger knowing that death is lurking. No one has needed him in years, but now, his affairs need to be ordered. His family must be gathered closer together.
The captain’s update of decent and arrival time cut into his thoughts of how he would break the news of his health to his son, and all of the things he wanted to leave him with and tell him and remind him of. The work. The finding finally of the path he once left. After all, a father should always be on path. That’s where his own look for him - a steady gaze when in youth and in needful glances as they age. The man feels like a father again raising his caved chest taller - his rebirthing as the end begins.
Back to the keys, his fingers pushed the name, John, into a blank space on the document saved as Last Will and Testament. Then one name at a time, each of his kids, deliberately and with care.
Two weeks before, he went alone to receive news of his diagnosis. He sat alone for days after wondering how to break the news to his kids spread in different places. A sole picture, a beckon of light rushing into the dark corner he backed into by himself, drew him out. A picture of his family, young and hopeful, caught up in the glow of dawn’s light waking up Yosemite. Smiles adored each of their faces like they had the rest of their lives together - they lived like it then, too. Feeling weans in suffering and that happy family warmth sometimes cools in years thinned in life’s taking, but the father then lifted the man now. His kids would need the father to die on the path, not lost in the brush. That’s why he boarded a plane to see his kids, to be with them all again in the breaking of his news and the ordering of his business; to be human and man and father able to swallow fear, grasp faith long enough to outlast doubt and die well. He would lead them again and not for the last time, for our paths continue beyond our years breathing echoing on in those following.
We all die, but not all of us truly live.
image: Yosemite, licensed by CC 2.0