I was typing my alternate ID number into the keypad at my (formerly) favorite grocery store when the perky cashier asked if I qualified for Senior Discount Thursday. My finger froze midair.
She repeated her question, louder this time, for the people over in the produce aisle. I smiled a la KellyAnne Conway when somebody brings up her husband’s tweets, and gave the wrinkle-less clerk ample opportunity to say something like, ‘You look far too young, of course, but we are required to ask everybody. Even school children.’
Granted, I’m almost 60 and that’s the threshold (I asked) — but still. Rude.
All of which got me thinking about aging and mortality and my mom who died at 63 and a good friend younger than me who left the party this year.
And another who is sick. Really sick, And I started to feel seriously bad. Then, for some reason, I remembered Erickson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development — which I learned about in college. It was a hazy memory but a quick Google search located the chart.
I’m in the Generativity vs. Stagnation phase. (#Seven of eight.)
(Not that I’m counting.)
This is the period when you realize that your turn at the cash register is coming up and it’s time to take inventory, make sure that you’ve made some kind of a difference — that you’ve given away the important things. The intangible things that matter. This is a critical precursor to the last stage: Integrity vs. Despair when, hopefully, though sad about the exit opening, you look back knowing that you didn’t waste your shot. That you’ll be missed because of who you were.
My friend Ann King, the one who is sick, is a healer of others, a nurse who calmly and gently took care of people with awful wounds and ostomies and other conditions that the rest of us wouldn’t let her talk about. She has these hands that are somehow warm and cool at the same time. When I had a kidney infection she came from Richmond to Charlottesville to take care of me. She placed her palms on my back where I was sure someone had been inserting a serrated poker, providing a physical comfort that I can still feel nineteen years later.
Ann is a mother of four who lost her youngest. She took the agony of Edward’s absence and directed a fund in his honor that provides tutoring and clothes and special experiences for children living in a homeless shelter. For nearly three decades her son has been remembered, even by people who never knew him, through her work. She and her husband, Don, have opened their home to others, welcoming family and friends and family of friends, creating a haven of good food and acceptance and deep peace.
Ann has spent her life modeling the important things like celebrating and loving others. And I will continue to look to her for guidance on living with grace and integrity.
(Which doesn’t mean I’ll be shopping on Senior Discount Thursday any time soon.)