In a conversation with a friend about my father, who is still going strong at 96, I said, “I take after my mother, which is good because there is no way I want to live to such an advanced age, particularly since I won’t have a widowed daughter to come stay with me. It’s kind of spooky thinking of having to grow old alone.”
She said, “You never know what will happen. Maybe a new love will drop into your life. I can imagine you at some writer’s festival and a distinguished stud with salt and pepper hair and a sweet smile flirts with you. He asks for your number and the next thing the rest of us know, Pat’s out dancing and dining every Saturday night and she’s suddenly submitting romance novels for publication…”
I laughed. “I love the ‘sweet smile’ part. Who knows, with or without a stud, I might go out dancing every Saturday night. I desperately need a new life.”
She responded, “I think you need a new life too. I’m afraid you’re just wilting away. So — how do you get a new life? What do you want your new life to be?”
And that’s where the conversation stalled. How do you get a new life? It’s not as if you can go to the mall and search the aisles at Lifes ‘R’ Us until you find a new life that fits properly and looks good. (Though that does sound like an interesting concept.)
What-we-can-become is dependent on whether what-we-are is an integral part of our genetics, keeping us always “us,” or if we are infinitely mutable and can become whatever we wish to be despite our inborn proclivities. In other words, can we really get a new life or are we always “us”?
For me to go out dancing every Saturday night, I’d need a personality transplant. I’ve always been drawn to quiet activities, such as dinner and conversation that dances from one topic to another. If somehow I did overcome my natural inclination for such sedentary pursuits, where would I go dancing? I’m too old for nightclubs and too young for senior citizens groups.
Still, I will need a new life of some sort. My father will not live forever, and I will need to decide where to go and what to do. And the truth is, I haven’t a clue.
Current research by Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert shows that while we can see how much we have changed in the past, we never think we will change in future. (Hence that ill-advised tattoo you got when you were young and now wonder what you were thinking.) But this isn’t always true. I know how much I have changed in the past. I have a photo of me as a baby, and I can see the vast changes between me and that poor befuddled creature. I can also see how different I am today from what I was four years ago when I watched my life mate/soul mate’s slow descent into death, and I can see how different I am from what I was almost three years ago when grief catapulted me out of that shared life into a new one. I can extrapolate from those experiences of change that I will also drastically change in the future.
I always feel the same, of course. — just me. (There must be some sort of mechanism, like an internal gyroscope, that keeps us “us” no matter how we change.)
The point is that I cannot figure out now what I want my life to be when I am free to pursue that life because I don’t know who or what I will be at the time. Maybe by then, I’ll miraculously have developed grace and style, and will have become a dancing queen. Or not.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+