Life Is Good - All In!
The other day I came upon a photo album that had concealed itself behind other books in the living room bookcase. It’s an album I put together for my husband in 2012 on the occasion of our 50th anniversary.
The picture on the cover is Monty gleefully and gently feeding me a piece of wedding cake. “It all started on November 22, 1962,” says the headline. Each double-page spread celebrates a year: 1963 - first trip to Europe; 1964 - friends in Greenwich Village and first ski house in Vermont; 1965 - first real house in up-state New York. Photos of Monty’s mother and mine, cherished aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins, and friends. The follies of youth – inappropriate cars, toys, clothes.
Then the miracle of children: 1965 - Tommy; 1966 - Peter; 1969 - Chrissy. Babies in arms, in bubble baths, in christening dresses. Toddlers and small children in the snow, at the beach, in Halloween costumes, and dressed up for birthday parties. Teenagers in their own inappropriate clothes with their own inappropriate toys. Family weddings, graduations, trips, and holidays. Someone’s on a boat, someone’s horseback riding, someone’s skiing. I’m awkwardly learning to windsurf; Monty’s building a boat.
What an extraordinary life. How amazingly lucky I have been and still am. The album neglects to remember the ugly and the painful. No stinky diapers, no dreaded calls in the night. Nothing here to remind me of the constant terror of having three teenagers and their friends whirling through the house. Not a mention of bills longing to be paid, gardens needing to be weeded, another meal to pull out of my imagination from a depleted refrigerator. Wonderful photos of loved ones now dead; they’re smiling, I’m smiling. Nothing in this album about grief, longing, or loneliness.
This album is not only a memory, it also reflects my true memory. For the most part I remember the wonder of my life. As I think about those who have died, I recall times together – often hilarious times, certainly loving times. With one treasured loved one, now dead, I rehash nearly-forgotten incidents again and again, always finding new understanding. With another I could argue politics until we were on the verge of massacre (then a hug, kiss, and laugh). It’s not another’s slow death I recall, but the time we went shopping for a mattress and scandalized the salesmen.
I know that my friends have also had tragedies: a spouse dying too early, loss of mobility, caregiver to a parent, long-distance children, a terrifying diagnosis, difficult financial choices, estrangement from a best friend. And I wonder: do they too have an album? Theirs might be a hold-in-your-hand album, like mine; or, it might be an imaginary album of memories and the recollected images that illustrate those precious remembrances. Is theirs as happy and life-fulfilling as mine?
I hope so, because I absolutely believe that optimism outdoes pessimism and that optimism is nurtured, not from looking forward into our future, but looking backwards at our past. That’s where we go to learn trust, self-confidence, and the knowledge that good trumps evil, and always will. That’s where we learn that the photo of son Number Two pooping in the pool at Miami’s Fontainebleau Hotel was not the tragedy we thought it was; in fact, it was the anecdote that made us laugh for fifty-plus sweet years. That’s when we look forward, optimistically, to more fun, more love, and more follies.