There exists a shift from feeling like you’re going to live forever to one where seconds begin slipping like water through the gaps in your fingers.
Securing a grip on the time we have is an impossible feat. Yet we are good at lying to ourselves. We reassure our mortal bodies that forever is real, that the sun won’t ever stop its cycle as long as we’re awake to see it.
I plunged deep into and then escaped from this illusion during a tandem trip between Miami and South Carolina. In Miami, the days bathed themselves in the golden hue of youth. Fun followed me everywhere I went like a shadow.
Oceans of clear blue gestured to me where I stood from the shore. Inviting me to feel weightless in its saltwater embrace. Then the sun would set and the facade of forever would march on.
Beautiful people held up never-ending glasses of drink to enjoy. Chatter mixed with sweet notes of whatever song filled the room. A cacophony of lights, sounds, tastes and touches. How could something so alive ever end?
Strangers became best friends in those twilight hours. I danced in the heat of that never-ending Miami summer, reaching for the heavens, euphoric. We would travel through the streets as a band, intoxication bonding us from sunset to sunrise. I made friends I would never speak to again, poured my soul out to them like it was free for the taking.
It was so very fun.
I got caught up in the fantasy. My youth would never cease to be. My liveliness was as permanent as the universe that created it. I boarded my plane for the next leg of my journey, tired but full of fire.
A great shift in perspective awaited me in Savannah. The shift crept its way towards me as I watched the Miami skyline disappear from 30,000 feet up.
The breaking news of Kobe Bryant’s death lingered in my mind, stained the view from the airplane window. An assault on my perceived immortality began after lift-off. I bade one final farewell to that city of eternity, turned my sights towards the next chapter. Confrontation waited for my arrival like a mugger in an alley.
Life is a fickle mistress. Turn your back on her and she will sprint decades into the future before you remember to return your gaze. She tricks you with a setting left unchanged only to distort the very essence of what makes these settings significant to you in the first place.
Walking into my grandparents’ home in 2020 was bizarre.
The place was as I remembered it with one exception. No man sat quiet on the catch upon my entry. Gone was his presence, loud was absence. My grandmother, a gem of a woman and always so full of life, stood strong amidst the many defeats she weathered. I felt for her, and felt my own dance with ‘forever’ begin to fall apart.
Mortality slapped me across the face as I settled in to the guest room. Mortality beat me to the floor when my grandmother and I went to visit the place where my grandfather now lived.
My grandfather was chipper, at least more so than I remembered him from days spent near him as a kid. He was smiley but lost in a world those of sound mind could not follow. His state was not as bad as the others that occupied the same space.
Fragile bodies meandered through desolate hallways. Skeletal hands gripped for somethings made of nothings. Bruises, dewey eyes, old pictures of consciousness. This was the starkest contrast to what I saw back in Florida. Once so alive and now withering away.
Old men would stop me, begin to put words into sentences only to trail off into blank staring. I did what I could to help them, to usher them from the beginning to the end of their ideas. To no avail, of course. These were not ideas but a mere string of some electric impulse in the mind. A stream of consciousness with no weight.
The week continued like this. After visiting my grandfather that first day, I accompanied my grandma to other memory wards. The one he lived in now was infamous for mistreatment. A woman, beautiful even in her lostness, was marred with bruises from falling over and over again. She lost teeth, broke a hip, and never shook the dark purple that colored various portions of her face. Other injustices were served that are better left unmentioned. The staff wanted to deal with the dying just as much as I did, it seemed. Our mission for the week was to find a place that did.
I never thought that, at 25, I would spend a week touring nursing facilities. Here we are. When I say it put things into perspective, I mean it.
We eventually found what we were looking for in a home located 1.5 hours from home base. The team was kind, the regulations were less strict and the patients seemed… happy. Hard to say, really. What is happiness when your whole life is whittled down to confusion? Besides the point. I was happy to be there for my grandmother in this time of great change. No one is ever prepared for things of this nature. Especially when the person dealing with it is still so in love with the afflicted.
I learned. From both Miami and my time in South Carolina. Immortality is silly. Reality is more tragic comedy than fantasy.
We enter the process of slow decay. The days continue, taking with them bits of ourselves we once thought permanent fixtures. That illusion of youth is not shattered in an instant but slowly robbed from. Forever seems tangible until one day it isn’t.
The realization of this sounds miserable.
You have to learn to release the idea of a forever youth. Make room for the grace that comes with the slow march towards the end.
Miami wouldn’t allow such thoughts to intervene with the fun of forever. Only the guest bedroom in my grandparents’ home and the company of my grandmother could do that.
We must all accept our own inevitable decay and live for it. To march towards the end with an intention to make a forever mark is more valuable than to deny this in favor of a mirage. We must all shed our youth and live for something. Without a purpose, a life is very much wasted.
I get that now. The shock of parallels forced me to see it clear as day.
As we bid farewell to the beauty this life gives us, to the experiences that convince us it will never end, we must find comfort in knowing it will conclude . To enjoy the moments ahead of us, to cherish the moments behind us, to create something that outlasts us.
This is the only antidote.