OP-ED: In life’s winter, it’s easier to be astounded by the spring
I watch my grandson, nearly 1 year old, lose it over gravity. The outrage! The insult! The heartbreak!
But tantrums are for the young, as are mass shootings, pyromania and road rage.
We older people write our representatives in Congress. We vote. You rarely hear us ranting as we creep out to the curb, clutching our bathrobes closed, toting another small bag of trash to add to the bin. We should get more credit for our decorum, especially considering all we have lost and are losing.
As we face another new year, we know we will watch a new crop of foolish people gain admiration. Some will be merely ridiculous; others will be horrifying.
We know that, in the new year, people we care about will suffer and die. Each of them will take a bit more of our past with them. Screaming will alter nothing. Things do not reverse.
In the infusion room where bags of chemical hope drip steadily through ports and needles into our bodies and the bodies of our friends, we sit politely, murmur gratefully.
When our bodies won’t take us where we want to go, we change plans. We sit quietly. If our hands won’t knit, we pet the cat.
We don’t grow old alone; our favorite poetry and paintings age beside us. We listen to a favorite singer sing a song we listened to lifetimes ago. The same lyrics now tell a different story than we once heard. We wonder how different she feels singing it now. Other heroes retire. Get hideous diagnoses. Die. We wonder what the ones who left early would say now.
Our wisdom comes not from being smart but from time on Earth. We have witnessed the repetition of patterns for so long we can’t help but recognize and predict. Even if our attention were elsewhere, we couldn’t have missed so many cycles, couldn’t have failed to absorb the knowledge that this, eventually, always follows that.
The young insist it’s different this time. They have reasons, specifics. Facts. Urgency. Will.
We did too.
There is no point yelling. No one can hear us. And, luckily, there is some peace in acceptance.
Things look different from here. That’s what perspective means. We recognize the beauty of simple cycles: clothes flowing from drawer to body to laundry and back, for example.
And at no earlier time in our lives could Garbage Eve and Garbage Day have taken on such significance. Accumulating trash over the week requires multiple decisions. Some are more likely to be made when the week is young, others as Garbage Day nears. Does this tattered rag have another wash in it? Are we ready to admit we’re never going to fix the latch on this box, finish this article, this crossword puzzle, this lipstick? Do we still believe this plant will revive?
We empty the vacuum cleaner: Goodbye to all that. We rake up pine needles, twigs and leaves. Iffy branches and fronds either make it through to another week or are trimmed and bundled and binned to be thrown away.
Of course, we know there is no “Away,” but there is someplace other than here, and that’s enough.
Dragging the bins to the curb marks serious intent. Adjustments can be made, but eventually the insatiable trucks come, growling and wheezing, to render our decisions irrevocable. With their passing, we are absolved of any further involvement with what has been taken. Purged, we begin the future lighter, free.
For one Sabbath moment, before the bins refill.
There was a time when we too would have found the sanctifying rituals of Garbage Day as absurd as any religious rite. But we’re less judgy now.
The seasons change quickly, having abandoned their once leisurely pace. We study the goings-on in the compost pile with new interest. The evolution and unification of leftovers and leaves to become dirt, capable of nurturing new growth in the spring, is more astounding, encouraging.
Whether we are here to see it or not, we know life will surge up from this dirt and take its turn. It will do its best. It will face obstacles, some annoying, some catastrophic.
And soon it too will be surprised by winter, having believed it would take much longer to grow old.
— Amy Goldman Koss is a contributing writer to Los Angeles Times Opinion and the author of numerous books for children and young adults.