Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The nursing home and the butterfly garden

We're on spring break this week and our regular life is a little out of order. Today we went to visit the lovely husband's grandmother in her Senior Life Facility. That's what it's called, of course, and if it conjures up an active lifestyle with golf and charades and drinks on the patio, I'm sure that's what the marketers want. But his grandmother, the kids' Gigi, she's in her 90s. Nobody in her building plays golf anymore.

I will tell you that never will be you be aware just how dewy your girls' complexions, just how unctuous your son's cheeks, until you watch a hundred leathered, worn, slumped and drooling, pale, bespectacled, askew, rheumy eyes turn toward you as if on one ball bearing. You parade your youth, your vibrance, your functioning legs and cheerful gait and your children, your children. You parade their unscarred, unscabbed, unmaimed or withered or shriveled boisterous laughter and mid-hallway spontaneous rings-around-the-rosy, their oblivious, arrogant, carefree-in-the-best-way vivaciousness, their on-ramp starting gate slots to the bell curve of life.

You don't usually think about the bell curve of life. You don't usually carry a chubby-cheeked boy so rosy that his cells regenerate right before your eyes across a line of wheelchair-bound onlookers, sitting in the hall because they were positioned so, because they have no choice in the matter, some of them, no control of their limbs or their voices to sputter any complaints, no where else to be, nothing else to occupy them because they're waiting for their off-ramp parking spots from the bell curve you usually don't consider.

The Facility is new and modern and brightly-lit and well-apportioned and probably about the best a person could ask for, and still it's depressing and rank with urine and antiseptic and Gigi's body, slowly betraying her, has left her mind fully intact to catalog the treasons. We only stayed for about fifteen minutes. She was tired and our flauntingly lively kids were losing their ability to behave demurely. I can't stop thinking about the place, though, and what's worse, not knowing you're dying or knowing fully and slowly watching it.

Earlier we had gone to a butterfly garden, one of those enclosed, tropical spaces where the creatures fly thickly and land right on you.

Butterflies taste first with their feet, we learned, and I like that notion, that one's whole body engages with the physical pleasure of nourishment.

Whenever I see butterflies or bees or hummingbirds do their thing, I think of the line from Thoreau (in the voice of Neil from Dead Poets Society, of course):

I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. 
I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life. 


Tonight I kept recalling the next line, as well.

To put to rout all that was not life; 
and not, when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived.


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