It was a planes-trains-and-automobiles kind of weekend as I ventured to Nebraska for a visit with family and friends. It’s tricky knowing when to go there, as the weather can turn problematic in a nano-second. It was a swift drop into my homeland. My main reason for the trip was to check in on my elders, a noble group of wise beings formative to my upbringing. This year held greater urgency, knowing that for at least a few, life is rapidly winding down.
Conversations varied, yet often circled back to the theme of aging. With Marilyn, our across-the-street neighbor who is nearly 91, we first caught up on family news, then the focus turned to assisted living. She still lives independently in her cozy little house, which she’s reluctant to give up. Yet she knows it’s not far off. We talked about the pros and cons of assisted living and the concerns about falling. It was not an easy subject to explore. I also visited with Kathie and Bill who, along with their six children, were like a second family to me growing up. In their mid- to late 80s, Bill now resides in a state-of-the-art nursing care facility. He was handsome and friendly as ever, yet definitely more fragile. Kathie visits him every day, then returns to her beautiful home in a lush Lincoln neighborhood, surrounded by her books and artifacts of a life well lived. Their life is one of transition right now and I was touched by the dignity with which they are both moving through this phase.
Then there was Sue, my mom’s first cousin. At 82, she still leads an active life, full of curiosity about the world. She mentioned that she is giving herself an early birthday present—a trip to London by herself. She’s leaving today. Our conversations were full of questions about technology and spirituality, tales of travels and reflections about family and life. Every bit of our time together was energizing and I hope I’m as lively when I reach my 80s.
My own parents amaze me. My dad is 89 and my mom, almost 86. They still live in the home of my childhood, drive to Minnesota regularly and are active members of the small town where they live. They both have constant projects going. My mom always has a knitting or quilting project nearby and is currently working on a soft blanket for a great-granddaughter. We had a conversation about creativity and craftsmanship. I reminded her that she’s had a big influence on my creative life, particularly in the way she’s modeled such precision with her various crafts over the years. My dad’s current project is working with a group restoring an old train depot in a town of 48 through which the Union Pacific runs regularly. Along with the depot, a boxcar is on display nearby. From what my dad reported, it sounds like much of his involvement has been scrounging miscellaneous parts for the project. He also restored several of the crumbling windows. His enthusiasm still runs high.
On the last morning I was with him, he took me to see the old depot. During the course of our outing, at least five trains passed by. He perked up like a little kid each time one came through, identifying different types of freight. As we watched each train with its specific cargo, I thought how much they are like our individual lives. I was glad for the reminder, from the trains and the weekend, to enjoy the ride while it lasts. We’re all just passing through.