I have back fat now. It is unusual in that it stretches out like the skin on the back of a dog’s neck. I could probably be carried by it. Occasionally I will pull on it the way a person might chew on a cuticle. It fascinates me. It appeared one day in all its glory. I think of the old commercial that asked, “Can you pinch an inch?” Why, yes, I can.
Others had warned me about the post-45 world. Your eyes go. Your physical examination always results in follow-up appointments. Your knees act up. Arthritis begins to kick in. You either go gray or know your hairstylist very well. Your clothing is planned around your shoes, and you wear comfortable ones now. Loud stores and restaurants are avoided.
In other words, you’re a lot smarter.
I wouldn’t trade my back fat for the world. It’s my license into this special age where you spend time with people you really like instead of people you are trying to like. You remember you enjoy music, but not necessarily concerts, before you’ve purchased your tickets, sat in traffic, watched staggeringly drunk people try to walk. You say no more than you say yes, but when you say yes, you are all in.
Your social circles get smaller because real stuff is happening, and you can’t pretend everything is OK when it isn’t.
Years ago I attended a bat mitzvah and was seated next to an older woman who was dripping in diamonds. She was beautiful, and you knew she always had been. Her clothes were impeccable. She had two sons; one was a successful attorney, the other an investment banker. They had gone to great schools, married lovely women and were parents to extraordinary children. I sat next to her in awe, and said, “What an amazing life you have led.” She leaned over to me, rested her hand on my forearm, looked into my eyes and in a deep, dramatic voice, said, “Into each life a little rain must fall.”
Really? Even she had experienced this rain that can feel as though it is going to drown you? Her earnest answer told me, yes, she had.
This little nugget of wisdom would come up over and over in my life. Real life doesn’t hold an immunity card. Initially I thought this was terrible news. Couldn’t someone, anyone enjoy a life unmarked by tragedy? This was depressing to me, until I found its power, and it holds so much power.
We are all here at this appointed time, walking the earth for our lifespan of years, trying to make the best of them. Our joys seem to be shared by many, but we feel alone in our sorrow. We send invitations to our celebrations, but hold our pain close to our chest, as though it is uniquely ours, never felt by anyone before us.
The role of support groups and 12-step programs is to teach us what this woman spoke gently into my ear. Into each of our lives a little rain must fall. It is at these times when we learn who holds our umbrella.
Tragedy visits each of our doorsteps. It binds us together, although very often, we sit alone with it, afraid to share, or unable to find someone who can help us contain it.
In my early, taut back days, I ran from this truth. Tragedy was something to escape, not something in which to immerse yourself. I am older now. I’ve lost friends, and I’ve lost family. Parenting has at times felt as though it was going to break me. People in my life have disappointed me in ways I still struggle to forgive.
The rain has been an occasional mist and at times a downpour with no sun in sight.
Now, though, I know who holds my umbrella. I also know, when they aren’t there, I can hold my own.
Mary Carey writes a column for the Chapel Hill News, from which this is reprinted.