Living in a World of Last Times
Piggybacking on the heels of Obama’s pause, I read something on Huffington Post that was equally touching, an article by a woman coming to a realization that as much as there are first times — milestones — that we focus on with a child (and I would argue, any human being), there are also last times. She writes,
I just now understand that in anticipating my son’s “firsts,” I’ve forgotten to appreciate what he’s left behind. The firsts are monumental, celebrated and captured on film. I reveled in Little Dude’s first steps, jotted down his first words and am prepared to save lost teeth. There isn’t a first I haven’t recorded in some way. I’ve paid less attention to his “lasts.” I’ve ignored the finality that comes with moving from one stage to another.
It struck me not because I suddenly realized this truth as well, suddenly thought about the lasts. This article stuck with me because of the not-quite-as-touching, more-than-a-little-neurotic inverse of Obama’s pause: I am so cognizant of the concept of lasts that I don’t think I’ve ever rocked in the glider with the twins without thinking this could be the last time. Even when they were newborns, though certainly now.
I wake up in the morning thinking about lasts and I go to bed thinking about lasts, and in between, I spend a lot of time (and have my whole life) thinking about lasts while I go about all my other daily activities.
If we were to look at my thoughts like a wedding cake, constructed like a wedding cake… well… do you know about wedding cake construction? There are supports inside the cake to keep the different layers from collapsing into one another, with a thin platform holding up each layer of the cake. So when I make a wedding cake, I place the largest cake on the bottom and ice it. Then I push in four plastic supports directly into the cake and rest a thin plastic disc on top of the icing and supports and then slide a slightly smaller iced cake on that. So the cake is actually resting on the plastic disc and supports and not the cake below. If I didn’t do it that way, as I added each layer, the weight of the cake would cause the top layers to collapse into the lower layers.
So I see my thoughts like a wedding cake, held in place with support rather than collapsing in and crushing me, but a wedding cake of lastness thoughts nonetheless. The bottom layer, the largest layer, encompasses long-range thoughts. Will this be the last cuddle, the last bath given, the last time I’m asked to tie someone’s shoes? Those are all about wanting to be needed, and feeling loved via that need as well as an opportunity to give love. Someone wants a cuddle and only I can provide the comfort that comes with that cuddle, and without saying any words, my child tells me that I am loved and I tell my child that they are loved. It’s simple. The same is true for every time Josh expresses how he needs me, and I meet that need.
That bottom layer also contains all my thoughts for the future that come with the fact that there are lasts built into everything that begins: will my children still want to be with me when they’re older, will my husband still want to be with me down the road, will I still feel relevant in society; in other words, all the things I enjoy now, will they burn out or will I still get to enjoy them in the future? Will these things that bring me such pleasure today come to a point of lastness? Because if there was a first kiss as Josh and I fell in love, it stands to reason that there could be a last kiss where we fall out of love. It happens. I’ve seen it happen to family and friends; we know this possibility exists: that anyone who chooses us can also unchoose us. Will I ever have to endure a last of my favourite things? To live days of my life without my favourite things?
(To be fair, I promised you that this wasn’t quite-as-touching and was more-than-a-little-neurotic.)
Back to the wedding cake analogy.
The middle layer consists of the lasts that I am resigned to because they will happen whether I like it or not. There was a last day of college, and I thought about that last day the entire time I was at college. There will be a day that my hair is no longer brown. I can dye it, but I can’t stop my hair from greying over, stop my skin from going soft with wrinkles. There will be (G-d willing) graduations for the twins and marriage and children (if they want them) of their own. These are the things I want to happen as much as I dread these lasts because the alternate is too terrible to consider. If my hair doesn’t go grey it isn’t a happy thing: it means I’m either dead or don’t have hair anymore. So I both grieve these endings long before they happen and also know that I don’t want the alternative to any of them.
And then lastly, the top layer becomes the last time I see a person. I think about this every time I leave a person, whether it’s for two minutes or two months. Will this be the last time I get to see them, the last time I’m with them, the last time I can touch them? You never know.
Sometimes this constant cognition of lastness brings us good things. A few weeks before Josh’s grandmother died, we went up to see her. She looked great. Yes, she was old, but she seemed vibrant. We took a walk, went out to a garden where I snapped dozens of photographs. I took the photos because I was thinking to myself, “what if? What if this is the last time we see her? I want more photos of her with the kids; more photos of her with Josh.” Perhaps there is a touch of my lastness obsession in the twins as well, because I had brought with me the family tree that I was working on, and when she started looking at it, telling us stories about people on the tree as she looked at their names, one of the twins suggested that I get out my digital recorder and make a record of it. And I did — an hour long recording of her telling us stories about her childhood and marriage and other family members.
And it did turn out to be the last time.
Which is why I can’t necessarily wish away my cognition of lasts, even if this knowledge is also something that feels sometimes like an albatross that I’ve been carrying around my neck for 38 years. Because amongst all those useless minutes of fearing a last, every once in a while, those thoughts bring us something perfect like that, where I get to capture and frame a last and have the comfort in knowing that I used my last time well.
I literally can’t imagine living the life of the writer of that article where the concept of last dawns on her somewhere in middle age. It sounds, on one hand, blissful. To be in the moment. Not half in the moment and half thinking about all of your fears for the future, but just being in the moment. And on the other hand, it sounds like she inadvertently misses a lot of lasts whereas someone who focuses on the lasts tends not to miss a single one. Unlike her, I can tell you the last time my kids drank from a bottle, tell you the last day they used a binky.
Where are you on the continuum if 1 is entirely living in the moment and 10 is closer to where I exist constantly thinking about lasts?