TODAY, after more than 90 years of a life well-lived, my husband’s grandfather passed away. Today is also my son’s third birthday. The mystery of the circle of life has never seemed as real to me as it does now.
Death and birthdays are natural milestones which we either dread or celebrate. Despite eons of evolution, humans have yet to become comfortable with the most simple fact of our existence: we are born to die.
Philosophers, theologists and scientists have tried to teach us the basics – and many attempt to soften the blow with promises of eternal happiness beyond the planet – but to me, the most relevant aspect of it all is that we don’t spend enough time celebrating and learning from experience.
When I pause to consider the gifts given to us by our grandparents, I do wonder if we’ve lost the plot. We spend an inordinate amount of time holding onto youth, once we hit our 20s, but precious little of it at the knees of the wise, who have already been there and done that.
I’ve always loved elderly people. Anybody over the age of 70 has been here longer – and that counts. Not for them the stressful buzz of technology or careful shopping for low-carb snacks at Woolies; when you’ve survived world wars, economic depressions, generations of corrupt governments and dwindling pension funds, none of the fluffy stuff matters much.
I used to enjoy hearing stories about “the old days” when my gran was alive. One of eight children, she was barely 16 when her father died following a railway injury. Hannah, her mom, managed along and put food on the table every night; who knows how often she wept into her pillow once the children were asleep. Back then, you just got on with it, as choices were limited to two: shape up, or ship out.
My gran loved numbers and would have been an accountant had there been money to study. I’m not sure what my grandfather wanted to do when he turned 18, as he didn’t have much of a choice – World War 2 had started and boys were being shuffled off to fight.
When he came back with a bullet in his head, starting a family and his own business no doubt seemed the best course of action; being home and alive was worth more than four degrees and a holiday home in Plett back then.
As a generation of smart, educated go-getters, we tend to forget about valuing the basics – family, food, friends and home. Instead, we’ve created a fancy, aspirational success story around the simple things that comprise the jigsaw of life: decorating your lounge becomes interior design; cooking for a crowd demands seasonal-inspired haute cuisine; parenting involves psychological tricks and tips rather than muddy knees and learning the hard way.
Oi, gramps would have laughed at me this morning. I wasted half-an-hour deciding between cheap fairy cupcakes and a gluten-free carrot cake for the birthday toddler. And whether or not to use glittery gift bags or wrapping paper for his presents.
“Stuff and nonsense, silly girl,” he said, in my head. “Have your cake, eat it and wrap the damn stuff in anything you want. It’s all stuff and nonsense, when you look at it from up here.”