April 22, 2016

The Endless Not-Doneness: What my Grandmother’s Journey Taught Me about Life.

Photo: Carmen Zuniga / Flickr

Back when I was an undergraduate in university, I would sometimes slip off campus during my long breaks between classes and head over to my grandma’s apartment to help her clean.

Inevitably, there would only be about 15 minutes of actual work to do, as her apartment was quite small, and the rest of the time I’d sit on her grey, midcentury tweed couch and listen to her talk as my milky tea cooled in my hands.

With a Werther’s toffee stowed deep in the pocket of one cheek, she’d rock in her rocking chair and tell me about the lives of her various friends and the problems she was having with the man she was dating, her slippered feet touching down rhythmically: He just doesn’t take me anywhere anymore, or, I wish he liked to dance.

I’d listen to her talk about how she was “done with men,” that she’d rather be on her own, able to do what she wanted, when she wanted, arguing that these suitors were too much trouble for what it was all worth (mostly a drive to the mall, a date for fish and chips).

But I sensed the non-truth in it.

For someone who had always deeply valued companionship, romance and attention, there was no way she was stepping out of the game before her health demanded it of her.

Growing up, I would watch my parents at the kitchen table balancing their cheque books, planning our camping trips, mowing the lawn or drinking beer with friends, and it was like watching people who had crossed the finish line. They’re there, I thought, and I was lulled by the security of being cared for by those I believed knew it all and had done it all. (They were only 32 years old when I was eight.)

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I carried this theory with me long into early adulthood. I believed that if I could only get myself into my 30s, I’d have it all together from that point on. I would have arrived. I just had to secure the husband, the job, the house, the kids, the pets and then ride—basically on cruise control— into the mystic.

I’m now knocking on 40’s door.

I found a few grey hairs as I was mugging in the mirror, searching desperately for that “good angle” that now seems to be taking sides with gravity. Despite how I look in the mirror, despite how I must look to my son—the old lady who’s got it all together—in so many ways I feel like a newborn.

So many parts of life seem blurry, like I just don’t have what it takes to pull it into focus. I’m still caught off-guard by my naïveté, embarrassed to be benighted about topics others can so easily dig their heels into.

I’m still deciding who and what I want to be when I grow up, and spend so much of my time searching, learning and wondering. I experience heartache and worry about my future.

I am still uncertain about the person I am and what I want from life.

As I speak intimately with those who have collected more years of life under their belts, I am starting to see that there is no finish line—until you’re actually finished. People I know in their 60s and beyond are still exploring, still learning the complicated steps to the dance of their relationships, trying new things, working their way through interpersonal dramas.

They are still breaking up, making up and dating.

This may not be a revelation to you, but to me it’s like the lid was blown off the whole thing. Oz stepped out from behind the curtain. How scary and amazing that these individuals are still getting to know themselves, are still making decisions about what they want and worrying about how they are going to get it.

Grandma wasn’t done with men, because she wasn’t done. As a person who likes to “get it, got it, good” rather than meander and make mistakes, I find the thought of being a lifelong explorer (rather than a conqueror) an unsettling one. It’s like being set adrift without a compass or map (there’s no real land to arrive at anyways). There’s nothing concrete but the fire and the desire to keep going.

There is just so much not knowing, and there is still so much to do.

It seems that to embrace our not-doneness is to turn toward life. So, here’s to the journey of becoming more comfortable with the idea of an endless (until the end) job of not being done, and the years of messy uncertainty it entails.


Author: Lisa Veronese

Volunteer Editor: Kim Haas / Editor: Toby Israel

Image: Carmen Zuniga/Flickr


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