I heard the news a few days ago that George H. W. Bush was dead. It wasn't like big news to me. If someone had asked me the week before whether he was still alive, I wouldn't have been sure. Maybe? Maybe not? So many names pass by me over the days and weeks and months. And years. And decades.
I guess I'm getting old. I've said it before, and to someone my age and older it's so obvious that it doesn't need saying, but when you get old, you don't FEEL like you're getting old. Well, your body does. But you continue feeling like an awkward adolescent (but just more tired).
But, as I said, so many names. All these people are dying. It's strange which ones hit me harder than others. I didn't really blink at, say, Stan Lee, or Burt Reynolds. But for some reason, David Bowie's loss struck me. (Our children were forced to listen to "Major Tom"—or whatever its true title is—"Space Oddity?"--several times that week.) And when General Authorities pass, that's a heavier loss, of course. With them, it's that they've always been there. They were the authorities in my life. The grown-ups. They leave the room, and suddenly, it's just us chickens around here.
What am I supposed to do?
I remember a time, shortly after marriage, when Roger and I were in our apartment together having just ordered pizza, a real splurge for our impoverished newlywed budget. We were getting ready to eat, and, as we had been trained, we were looking around for salad to have with the pizza. But suddenly it dawned on me. "Roger," I said. "We don’t have to eat salad with the pizza. Our parents aren't here!"
So here I am in this life with all of the grown-ups exiting the building, and I'm not sure what to do. The thing is, I'm too tired and rickety to jump on the bed, and these days pizza makes my stomach queasy. Don't tell me that it's time to have fun and I'm no fun anymore! I really think I've lost my sense of fun—but that's another topic for another time. At least I can say that I am still enjoying myself. In fact, I think that I enjoy myself more and more as the years go by. Maybe that's because I'm lowering my standards. Whatever it is, the little things bring so much more pleasure. Clean sheets. Coming home after a trip. Quiet.
Yeah, I sound like an old person.
But I just don't feel like a grown-up. If I were a grown-up, that would mean that I know what we're supposed to be doing with this world we've inherited. It means that the people after me are looking at me, blaming me for the mess they find themselves, and the world, in. As if I had anything to do with it!
At what point am I supposed to stop running around with my eyes on the ground lest someone ask me to do something? At what point am I supposed to "step up"—and what does stepping up feel like? Does anyone ever feel like they've "got this"?
I guess there are smaller situations in which I have learned how to step up. I feel pretty confident in my classroom (but don't throw me any difficult student situations, or ask me really hard theoretical questions about criticism, or even expect me to remember the name of "That one poet who wrote Wild Iris" half the time [it's Louise Gluck, but when on-the-spot I forget names like crazy].
Maybe "grown-up" means "knows how to fake it," or "can cope in one particular area, maybe, if you don't look too hard."
Whatever . . . I'm just really, really glad that I am obscure. Nothing huge is expected of me. Right? Because I'm not ready.