It’s back to school time, and around here that’s like going 0-60 in 2.5 seconds. Everything was lazy and chill and then…. BOOM! Everything, all at once, and you’d better keep up or else. My kid got sick immediately, because human bodies don’t respond well to that kind of stress. So over the long weekend I tried to buy her some stuff from a mall (which I never do because I hate malls and people, but until Amazon starts same day delivery in my area, I’m stuck).
Parking was readily available, so I wondered if I was at the wrong entrance, but then I saw a family walking in and decided to give it a try. The family, consisting of a very elderly couple and their adult daughter with Down Syndrome, seemed to be struggling to move, so I held the doors for them. The father seemed the best off. He had a cane. The mother had a full walker and the daughter shuffled along behind her. The father told the mother to hurry it up, but I assured them I had plenty of time.
Once inside, it became clear this was a dead mall. Three sources indicated that it had the store I was looking for, but that was not the case. Half the mall was taken over by a furniture store with very little furniture, so you’d see a couch where an Orange Julius should have been, a dresser standing next to an empty fountain. The remaining stores sold little more than a few racks of jungle print blouses and tapestry handbags. Two unrecognizeable eateries occupied the mostly shuttered food court. There were a handful of nail salons. With customers. Or maybe the manicurists were just doing each other’s nails. It was bleak. But as for the store I needed, it was long gone.
As I turned to leave I saw the family seated on a bench in the entry corridor. Just sitting there, smooshed together like worn-out rag dolls on a dusty shelf, staring.
Bleak on bleak. Or maybe not. Maybe they were happy in their way. It could have been their Sunday ritual, possibly decades long. They were alive and together. Isn’t that what we aim for? I felt bad for feeling bad. I may have misinterpreted everything. But to me, seeing that family– feeble, tired, with nothing to do but stare at the world NOT whizzing by– it devastated me to my core.
There but for the effectiveness of contraception go I. They were probably in their forties when they had her. A baby they’d wanted all their lives? Or maybe the last of them, a surprise. We’d often talked about it, my husband and I, when tests indicated we had a higher chance of having a baby with Down Syndrome. No, we didn’t want to know, and no, we wouldn’t have terminated based on that anyway. But we were still in our 30’s. We still felt confident in our ability to handle things. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world. And clearly, it wasn’t the end of their world. For there they were, together, still kicking in their 80’s, grown daughter by their side. At a mall I couldn’t wait to leave.
They can’t live forever. Then what? God, they looked so tired. So tired.
This is the goal. Just keep living. As long as you can. And yet, I am so glad my mother will never be on a bench. She was actively part of the world. A shopper. A door holder. A do-er, not a watcher. A do-er cut short.
These thoughts come circling back again and again. What is the value in a life? Is longevity all it’s cracked up to be? Maybe for Jimmy Carter. He seems to have lived pretty well for pretty long. But the rest of us? I don’t know.