What a beautiful woman! I could not stop staring for the two days I was with her this week. She has thick red hair, a tiny cute figure. She wears colorful jewelry and classy clothes. She laughs wholeheartedly and often, and asks my husband and I lots of questions, interested in our lives, though we live a continent and a generation away from her. The day we left, we ate a salad lunch she had prepared out on her patio, surrounded by the botanicals she tends so lovingly. Did I mention that she is 90?
How do we stay this young and alive and beautiful?
Two days of driving later, I walk a beach, an unending beach at the very bottom of the country whose end truly I cannot see. Most of the people on this beach are retired. My husband and I are here for just a few days to celebrate our 38th anniversary. How can we be this old?
I felt it this Christmas, one of those terrifying moments on Christmas week. Maybe I was in church when I felt it, this sick-of-all-the-festivities ennui, the carousel repeating the same old songs, that tired horse riding up and down and nowhere to run but that circle that shrinks tighter every year. Oh no. Please not that. Anything but that. I am too young to feel this old.
For all of us the new year comes and we are all another year older . . .
I walk this Gulf of Mexico beach, yesterday, today. I walk miles and miles trying to undo it, trying to unwind it—all those years, and the weariness from so many months of Alaskan storms and darkness. And---Look how many are here on this beach from far away, from a century ago: all of us with arms out, poles out, throwing lines in the surf, with tongues in the sun, white legs pumping, like mine, all of us asking. All of us inviting, hoping, begging, praying. … .
We all come here, where worlds intersect. Here where the ocean comes ashore to play, delivering toys and wonders. We are shopping, all of us, for some small jolt of life, for some fragment of youth and awe.
And it came. Yesterday as I was walking, a strange fish rolled in the surf at my feet. Almost two feet long, with a thin body, huge coarse scales and what was this? A mouth like an alligator?? What is this strange creature? (A garfish, I learned later.) I touched it, and suddenly that alligator mouth gaped at me. It was alive! But not for long. It would soon be beached entirely. I picked it up, its long body shimmering like an opal in the sun, and walked it out to deeper waters. I set it gently in the wave and let it go. It nosed through the foam of the surf, then dazedly dove its body down through the next roller, and it was gone with a flash of its tail.
I stood entranced, enamored of its rainbowed armor, delighted to see the dead brought to life again. I laughed, and my legs moved faster, stronger those next 2 miles while I watched for another fish.
It didn’t come. Just birds, children, kites, old lovers. All of them suddenly strange and wondrous to me.
But already, the day after we arrive in this place, we must think of leaving, of returning to our stormy winter. I don’t want to go. But I remember what happens there.
I walk the beach there too. Each morning, on the days when I am faithful, (and I am not nearly faithful enough), I bring this aging body to another beach. To another edge between worlds where one world crashes ashore to the next, where the carousel unwinds, where eternity meets time, where God’s words meet my silence, where Truth washes away my deceptions, where beauty meets decrepitude. There, I walk the pages of God’s words where the possessed are set free, the leprous made clean, the naked clothed, where the once dying laugh like a child.
Salt water washes my face. Every time. I lunge out into the deep waters, swimming, new again. My heart soft. Young again.
I can leave then in a few days without mourning, remembering: I am only leaving one beach, not the other. The other goes with me. Always.
And, like this, maybe I will live to be 90. Maybe you will too! And when some younger woman pilgrims to our door to ask our beauty secrets, they won’t find us in our rocking chairs: we will be down on the beach, walking, running catching the next rainbow fish in the surf,
laughing like the children we always will be.