Riding the River of Life

Photo by Tom Fisk on Pexels.com

This is a perfect morning. I awoke early, finished my Wordle puzzle quickly and enjoyed the laughter of children gathering on the corner across the street from my home as they waited for the bus to convey them to school. I’m sipping on my tea and thinking of my grandson Andrew whose birthday is on this day. He’s become a fine man who watches over his younger brothers and works fifty hour weeks on his job designing and managing the engineering of constructing schools and medical facilities. He’s come a long way from the days when he was a cuddly little baby boy who liked to be rocked and entertained with songs.

In an hour or so I will be leaving to teach Algebra to a couple of delightful young girls who are already proficient in rather difficult mathematical concepts. I look forward to seeing them because they provide me with so much optimism about the future of the world just as grandson Andrew does, as well as those youngsters on the corner who serenade me with their laughter and antics each morning. Still, there is a circle of life that is inevitable but sometimes just a bit frightening.

My ninety three year old father-in-law is still slumbering in his bedroom. He has worked hard to adjust to his new life without his wife and away from the comfort and familiarity of his home. For a time he hardly slept here in my house, but now he has begun to relax and adapt to the flow of our routines and the unfamiliar sounds. I can tell that there are times when he longs for his independence and the joys that he experienced with his wife. While the young people around here are just beginning their journeys he realizes that his time is slowly approaching its close. Nonetheless he takes very good care of himself and he may have another decade or so in his future. His mind is sharp and he becomes physically stronger with every new day.

This afternoon my brother and sister-in-law will pick me up for a journey that we all wish did not need to take place. One of our beloved cousins, who is only months older than I am, is now living in a residential care facility after dementia began to overtake his mind. We don’t know what he will be like but we are determined to show him how much we love him even if he does not know who we are. 

It has been a shock to our family to hear of his declining health. He is perhaps the sweetest among our large brood of cousins who grew up together. None of us can remember a single time when he was unkind. We used to joke that he was destined to be a priest or maybe a living saint. His love of people and his country is bottomless. He has quietly entertained us with his wit and his ability to spin a tail. He has always faithfully taken the time to be a presence in our family whether it be to celebrate or grieve. 

I am heartbroken that his mind has been undone. I know that such things sometimes happen as people grow older, but it does not make the realization that he has been afflicted any easier. I have known a number of people have suffered from dementia and it is such a frightening disease for the persons whose mind become jumbled and for those who love them. In a sense they almost become strangers to one another as the disease progresses to a point where the person does not even remember how to get dressed or even to breathe. 

My cousin appeared to be just fine only a year ago. He had retired from his job after decades of service. We saw him at the funeral of another cousin and he seemed to be as fit as ever, maybe even more so since he was not working everyday. It has been shocking to hear the news that dementia seemingly overtook him so quickly. We find ourselves looking for clues that we missed that might have warned us that he has been carrying this illness longer than we even knew.

Life can be up and down and sideways. Sometimes it makes little sense. It can be beautiful and tragic. There are aspects of it over which we have no control no matter how hard we try. It can feel like river rafting on calm waters and then being flung over a waterfall. If we work together we can keep our tiny boat upright and moving forward. It takes teamwork to navigate together. It also requires a willingness to go with the flow and master the methods for keeping afloat. There can be joy but also danger. The thrill of our ride through life is in hanging together and enjoying the good times whenever they are present.

My daughter tells me that there was once a vacation when she and her sons embarked on a river canoeing adventure. They were laughing and enjoying the views when one of the canoes overturned. Her second son became trapped under the boat as the waters kept carrying him and the canoe forward. Luckily he was a strong swimmer and eventually extracted himself from the trap. Still, they all realized how close his call with death might have been. It was a sobering moment for everyone. 

I’ll take my days as they come and hope that I will have the strength of my courageous second grandson to deal with the dangers of life when they happen. I understand how important it is to soak in the laughter that comes from the corner where the children are gathered. I realize the necessity is to celebrate life just as I herald the birth of my grandson. I know that one day even the best among us may be nearing the end of this journey like my cousin. I am not any more exempt from the reality than anyone. I am in what some people call the last quarter of life and with each passing year I inch closer to the end. There is no other way to live than to enjoy the ride. I plan to grab it when it’s good survive it when it becomes dangerous. I’ve learned that the secret to a happy life is in enjoying each precious moment as it comes. Today is no exception as I ride the river of life.