You hit the age of sixty and immediately, it seems, the old clock starts to tick a little louder. This is good, of course, because you probably can't hear as well as you used to. Still, there is something about writing your age with a "6" that whispers in your ear, "Better get it done if you're ever going to. You're not going to live forever, you know."
I know this, of course (and the producers of The Bucket List made a fortune off this very idea). But I just haven't ever thought about it much until now. Maybe it was losing my dad a little over a year ago that slapped my cheeks, squeezed my nose shut, gave me two quick breaths, and yelled, "Wake up!" Maybe it has been the yearlong process of going through his things with Mom, of dispersing tools and guns and vehicles here and there, of realizing that, even if you have seen the Kaufman and Hart play, you really can't take it with you.
About now is when you start thinking about a legacy. What am I really leaving behind? Fifty years from now, what will my life have meant? Most likely, no one alive then will remember that I played piano (This is probably a good thing.) or acted in college and community plays or sang.
Except maybe the grandkids. Maybe they will remember that I sang. Maybe they will be singing those same songs to their own grandkids, and, in their so doing, I will have left a legacy of sorts and achieved a kind of immortality.
I am reminded of Billy Joel's beautiful lullabye, "Goodnight My Angel": "Someday your child may cry/And if you sing this lullabye/Then in your heart/There will always be a part of me," he sings toward the end of the song. And then, "Someday we'll all be gone/But lullabyes go on and on/They never die/That's how you/And I/Will be."
This, I think, is one of those rare songs where the lyrics and melody are perfectly married to one another. Joel's words are a poignant testament to the power of words to travel across time, to lodge in the hearts of subsequent generations and thereby leave a living legacy.
Maybe this, in part, is why I write. I have things that I think and feel, and I desperately want those things to survive. When I write, both people who know me and those who may not can come to my buffet and fill their plates with anything they find somehow practical or palatable.
The written word triumphs over the human life span, and thank goodness for that. Thank goodness for the buffets spread years ago by King David, by Shakespeare, by the blind Homer, by the likes of Frost and Poe and Whitman. Thank goodness I have had the opportunity to taste their delectable morsels and to leave a few of my own behind for readers who may come through the line after I, too, am gone.
Luckily, these pensive and somewhat melancholy states of mind don't last long. It's just that I have been struggling lately to stay afloat in this ocean of life insurance policies, powers of attorney, health care directives, and beneficiary deeds. Indulge me in one last morbid thought, but just before I started writing this post, I was thinking about what I might want engraved on my tombstone.
This, I think, is what I want it to say: "Life is a poem and a song." Because when this is the case, life, like Billy Joel says, lasts forever.