Richard Ford is a writer whose prose is meticulous and original. I am reading his collection of related short stories called Let Me Be Frank. In the stories Frank is a retired realtor living in New Jersey right after Super Storm Sandy, and so appropriately the underlying theme of the book is loss. Something that resonated with me is when Frank says, “As we age, the world becomes smaller and more condensed.”
I feel that as I age everything, including my body is shrinking. I remember my former mother-in-law closing doors with every birthday. After she turned sixty she vowed she would no longer fly, travel to her former home, New York City, or learn to pump her own gasoline. She had certain friends she would continue to see, and certain foods she would no longer eat. Salt became out of the question. I was divorced from her son after that and so I don’t know what other doors she closed forever. Sadly, she lived for more than thirty more years in relative seclusion, doors closed tight.
While most of us don’t go to the extremes she did, we find our world shrinking as we grow older. Flying and the complications of security at airports make us older folks wary of traveling. When Ron and I came back from Mexico a couple of winters ago, it took us twice as long to get through customs and navigate the Atlanta airport as the duration of our flight from Cancun. I was so irritated that I swore I would never fly through Atlanta again. I am often caught, however, saying I will never do something ever again, and find myself doing it anyway. We are going to Mexico again later this winter, and we are once again going through Atlanta. I am dreading that part of the trip, but suspect I will survive the inconvenience.
Living in a small town like Black Mountain makes the world feel very knowable. We frequently bump into people we know at the supermarket, farmers’ market, or on Cherry Street. This morning at Ingles I ran into six people I really like but haven’t seen in months, but I also said hello to many others I see all the time. Abby calls me the honorary mayor of Black Mountain, but most of us who live here have that same sense of belonging. And when I go to Asheville as we did this past weekend to the Flea For Y’all and the Big Crafty I always bump into people in my small circle: close friends, customers, other dealers, and artists whose work I sell.
(I must add that I have always run into friends in unexpected places: in Spain, in France, in New York, and elsewhere. Coincidence? Years ago Deepak Chopra spoke at Jubilee in Asheville about the nature of reality. Using Physics as his proof, he talked about how so much of what we experience is created our minds as we manipulate sub-atomic particles. He claims that when we bump into someone, as I described, it is because we brought that person to us with our thoughts. We conjure them up. Once at a Country Day soccer game I was telling my seat mate about a former student, an amazing player, who had graduated years before and lived somewhere in Colorado. I tuned my head to look at the score board and there he was, walking through the gates for the first time in at least five years. I must have conjured him.)
Social media goes a long way towards shrinking the worlds of all of us, not just the aged. I am delighted to keep up with friends from long ago and to watch my former Country Day students get closer and closer to my age. In Black Mountain we have a Facebook page called The Black Mountain Exchange, which is a bulletin board for locals to ask for help and advice or to offer information. Yesterday there was a long stream following the wanderings of a lost pit bull until the Humane Society picked him up. I could have made a map of his route. I never experienced a telephone party line, but that is what this page feels like.
While I struggle to not let my world shrink into a Black Hole and disappear, I find myself a creature of habits. I get up at the same time every day and go through the same series of steps towards waking up. I never do things in a different order or leave out a step. God forbid we are out for coffee! The same is true for my end of the day ablutions. They proceed in a specific order or I can’t sleep.
We have our little rituals which provide comfort. Ron loves tv and so we have our specific shows we look forward to. Ron adores American Pickers and can watch repeats, and the same is true for Antiques Roadshow. I am an extrovert and have always looked forward to parties and other social gatherings, but now I’d rather stay home in my slippers and fleece pants on the couch beside Ron.
Life is going by so quickly, especially now. I have written before about how the seasons have been flying and it will be 2019 before I have become comfortable writing 2018 on my dates. But while the world around me has become smaller, it also feels like my life is richer, just like a big pot of broth that has simmered on the stove for a long time.