So I was grilling two of the loveliest pork tenderloins you’ve ever laid eyes on last night when I saw a gentleman walking around our soon-to-be new neighbor’s soon-to-be house. I caught a glimpse of him over our fence line, but didn’t think much of it. When he waved me over, I knew that my soon-to-be perfectly cooked pork tenderloins were soon-to-be overcooked as I was about to foray into a conversation for which I had not planned.
“Did you see anyone milling about upstairs since the builders left?” asked Carl, after he had introduced himself.
“I haven’t, Carl. Why?”
“It’s just that the windows were closed but are now open, and I don’t want to see anyone messing with the house.”
As it turns out, Carl is on the neighborhood watch on the street behind ours. This 75 year-old-if-a-day man has a sharp eye, and he realized that the new windows in the new construction site were oddly open, the bottoms tilted in and hanging. It did look odd, but not overtly suspicious. I told him that I thought he builders had been checking the tilt-in feature and they forgot to close them again before leaving.
I was about to get back to my rapidly searing pork tenderloins when he told me that he lived in the house “yonder, with the banana trees.”
For starters, I think it’s odd yet strangely cool that someone would try to grow bananas in St. Louis. But then Carl told me something that really irked me.
“I’ve got over a hundred of ’em, but I have to dig them all up in the fall and bring them into the basement. My son says I’m too old to be doing that.”
I was about to tell him that his son was an a-hole, when I stopped myself. “Carl, don’t let anyone ever tell you that you’re too old, or too this, or too that to do anything. Do what makes you happy. You’ve earned it.”
I know what Carl was thinking at that moment: ‘Why couldn’t you have been my son instead of the six-foot biped leech sucking the fun out of my remaining days in this valley of tears?’
I had made it back to my pork in the nick of time, but not even the tenderest of loins were able to assuage my irritation at Carl’s son. I get the same feeling whenever I hear someone talk about an athlete playing at 40: “He’s washed up, she’s a has-been, he should just hang up the cleats, stick the fork in her…she’s done.” Then there’s my personal least-favorite, “He doesn’t know when to quit.”
To people who say that, I have two words for you: “Shut up.”
Anyone who has ever read this blog knows that I have an exceptionally strong affinity for the saying, “Yours is not my life to live.” Do I have thoughts on what I think people should do? Sure, I’m human. But I also know that it is not my right to say them in public, nor is it a very nice thing to do. Because deep down, if you think about it, how it’s really coming across is, “Your worth is over.”
Imagine someone, anyone, telling you that. Imagine hearing, “You’re 50, you shouldn’t be skydiving.” Or, “You’re too old to garden.” Or, “You need wheelchair assistance…your days of traveling are over.”
It’s times like that when humanity has a wonderful way of combating a lack of compassion. In 1984, my grandfather was dying of cancer. We went to Ireland that Christmas to visit him and the rest of the family, and that’s when I had an inkling that I’d never see him alive again. He was getting frailer every day, and his last words to me were “See you over the great divide.” He was in bed, resting, too tired to take us to the airport to bid us goodbye before we headed back to the States.
He’d never not taken us to the airport. My twelve year old heart was heavy that day.
What I didn’t know was that while we were in Ireland, my dad had offered his parents an all-expenses paid trip to Tenerife, in the Canary Islands near Spain. My dad knew that his dad was not long for the world, and he wanted to send him off with a bit of sunshine, as opposed to the mostly dreary Irish winter. My “Pop” was all for it.
The lung cancer had spread in my grandfather’s body, and it had started affecting motor function. An avid pitch-and-putt golfer, he had fallen on the golf course just weeks prior to Christmas, and it was not the first fall he’d had. My grandmother was terrified that if he fell again, especially away from home, she wouldn’t be physically able to help him. Originally, my “Nana” said no to the trip.
It would be lying if I said that my Nana and my mom had the strongest of relationships. My mother is a fiery red-head, while my Nana carried the hammer and nails in her purse for the public crucifixions she could sometimes administer. Yet it was in the kitchen of my grandparents’ house where my mother uttered (basically) these words:
“Tess, I completely understand that you’re scared, and you are facing something that you’ve never faced before. But the thing to remember is that you’re always going to be around people, they have hospitals there, and we will even get you travel insurance in case something happens and you have to get Ger home by means other than him sitting beside you. This may be the last trip you ever take together. Don’t give yourself the opportunity to say that you regret not going when he’s gone.”
And you know something? They went, and they had an absolute ball. They had crazy good weather, my Pop ate some lovely food, and they took so many fantastic pictures that my dad has placed all around the house. Both Nana and Pop looked over the moon. They did something that made them happy, and they talked about it until my Pop died just two months later. They created memories that Nana carried with her to her own passing 21 years later.
If you would have looked at my Pop, you would never have thought he should get in an airplane and schlep luggage and risk potentially hurting himself or dying away from home. But his was not yours to live.
I have a friend battling cancer right now, and it’s kicking her rear-end. And no, she’s not always the happiest person, because cancer can do that to you. But I still see her Facebook pages, and she’s still taking risks and traveling and living as best she can. Because as she espouses, her purpose isn’t just to survive; her purpose is to live.
So to Carl, keep growing your bananas. To Facebook friend, keep seeing the world as best you can. To 40 year-old athlete, only you can tell you when you’ve had enough. And to anyone reading this, never let someone tell you when to pack it in, when to grow up, when to be sensible, or what you should and should not be doing.
Theirs is not your life to live. Yours is.