Mom turns sixty-two in a few weeks. I write the number sixty-two in blue ink on the back of a grocery list. The two numbers, bound together with a delicate yet profound hyphen, remind me of the umbilical that once connected us. The exaggerated curve of the number six looks pregnant, as if about to give birth to more baby twos, innocent numbers—all soft, sinewy and naive—soon to be shaped by the world of experience that lies ahead of them. I turn the paper back over and return to the grocery list. Item number one: toilet paper. Mom always says to get toilet paper when you go to the store, whether you need it or not.
Nature is delivering winter tidings as gusts of wind rush through the elm trees outside, blowing off the few remaining leaves and rattling the windows of the old Victorian house I call home. It’s late afternoon and the dim evening light has come early. The kettle is on for tea. Item number two: honey. I take the list, the piping hot mug of tea and the nostalgic thoughts back to my desk. Lapushka is keeping our chair warm with her kitten cuddles. I sit down, and she curls herself in a c-shape around my lower back.
Mom tells me that she feels youthful, despite accumulating a larger number every year on her birthday and experiencing an aging body. She tells me, “Make your life count. It’s gone in a blink.” Her hair is all gray now, and mine is not too far from hers. We all have to face the impact of time. I know what she means when she tells me to make my life count. But I refuse to acknowledge the word gone. Gone feels too forever. Gone is a dark well you fall into and struggle to escape. Item number three: make life count.
Making life count seems to be my poet’s battle cry. I’m learning how to respond to the inevitable storms that the world of experience brings with ease, much like the elm trees outside my window. It’s a process. Living a life that counts can only be cultivated in being present to every moment—the transcendent days as well as the inferior days. I can do that now. I can begin to build a life of presence with roots deeply connected to my ancestors and face all that life blows my way.
Winter is nearly here, and Mom is nearly sixty-two. Change is happening, always. I imagine us taking a walk on her birthday. We bundle up in hand-knit hats and scarves and conquer the paths we once walked along when I was a little girl, and she was a young woman. In one moment I am listening to her voice, and in the next, we are met face-to-face with younger versions of ourselves. It’s an uneasy recognition like meeting a stranger you swear you’ve met before but you can’t quite place. Mom wears her hair in a short spike style with frosted tips, and I am youthful, wide-eyed and full of hope—all soft, sinewy and naive.
In a rush, I want to warn my younger self about all the awful things that are going to happen to her. I want to let her know that even when she’s lost all hope and desire to live, the woman by her side will help bring her back from the darkness and encourage her to keep moving forward. Forward momentum is often the best antidote to the tragedies in life. Before I can get the words out, the two apparitions disappear in a blink. We both gaze up as two points of light ascend high into the dusk sky. Mom takes my hand in hers and smiles.
I finish my tea and scribble down the final item on my grocery list.