Lost and Found

I got lost on the way to my college reunion.

It was supposed to be a trip down memory lane, the drive to Michigan an exercise in muscle memory. But when I exited the highway, searching for the familiar pizzeria, the old school and the shopping center I knew, I missed the turn. The landmarks had evaporated, replaced by new construction.

That’s what it’s like getting older. Everything that is familiar, everything you think you know, begins to fall away.

It starts when your parents sicken and slip away. Much is said about the deep challenges of caring for aging parents. What we don’t articulate as readily is that it is an emotional sucker-punch to lift your frail father off the floor from where he has fallen. When the guy who is your safety net, your rock, your Atticus, can no longer stand on his own, it’s terrifying to realize that now you must do just that.

You keep looking around for a grown-up to guide you. 

The feeling strangely echoes every time a movie star or entertainer dies. I never understood when my mother-in-law used to say, so wistfully, “What a shame; he was so handsome,” when the Hollywood golden boy who had passed away wasn’t even a favorite of hers. Now I see he was a cultural landmark that grounded her.

It’s odd, the little things that make us feel rooted in time and place. 

One by one, your favorite retailers, movie theaters and restaurants close; each feels like a personal loss. Not that you don’t like Amazon and Grubhub; it’s just that these physical places were extensions of your life’s story. It was the grocery store where you shopped for your holiday briskets and bumped into your neighbors; the cinema where you took your child to see her first full-length movie; the Chinese restaurant where you had egg rolls every Christmas Eve. 

From now on, you’ll only see them on Facebook, when your feed informs you that on this date two, five or 10 years ago, you were there. Now the touchstones of your life will be virtual, even as your former workplaces reorganize or close, and the house you grew up in is razed to make way for condominiums. You find that you cannot go home again because that home no longer exists.

Life goes on. You go to work and make dinner. You pay your bills, check your 401K and dream of remodeling your kitchen. You have the oil changed. You help your adult child select her health insurance plan and a young colleague navigate holidays with her new in-laws. You bake cookies and put up pickles and freeze chicken soup for a rainy day. You have your annual mammogram. You change the batteries in your smoke detector. You realize that you actually are “adulting.”

You find new touchstones. 

You have a new happy place at your BFF’s home in Florida, where she has moved for a working retirement. Your house begins to fill with dishes of shells you collect together while strolling along the beach, making your home feel lighter. 

A new neighborhood eatery opens in the shuttered space that once housed your favorite Chinese restaurant, and it is developed by the same folks who owned the place where you had your daughter’s bat mitzvah. It becomes your family’s new favorite spot. 

You learn how to kayak and use Photoshop. You tackle a soufflé. You adopt a cat. You start to attend plays and concerts like you used to, before life got in the way. You take that trip to Italy. 

When you pause to peel back your disappointment in the current political climate, you see the progress that has unfurled while you were busy being a part of it: Parental leave for new moms and dads. Support for marriage equality. Growing opportunities for girls in school sports. Zero tolerance for sexual harassment at work. Young people willing to stand up, march or walk out for what they believe in.   

Your car learns the way to your daughter’s apartment, a stone’s throw but light years away from the place where you grew up. You no longer need to close your eyes to picture her as an adult, because she is there, navigating her job and learning to cook dinner and live on a budget, negotiating relationships and workout regimes, so similar and yet for different than you were at her age. She invites you for Shabbat dinner. You recognize the torch has been passed, and your hearts swells. And you realize that — someday — there will be grandchildren. 

Linda 2014
Empty nester Linda Haase considers lessons learned and progress made in her lifetime, through a Jewish woman’s lens.... Read More

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