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You old, Grandma?

As I lay beside my baby girl on the air mattress at the foot of the bed in her small room upstairs, deep in thought, she began picking at a strand of my hair with her thumb and index finger, pulling it up, letting it go, pulling it up, letting it go.

"Why you got gray hair, Grandma?" she innocently asked.

"Because I'm getting old," I said, teasingly.

Her little face grew quite serious. "I don't want you to get old, Grandma. Then you will die, and I will miss you," she said, sadly.

Taken aback, I said, "I'm not THAT old, Baby Girl!"

"But I don't want you to get old, Grandma," she said, putting her arms around my neck. "I don't want you to die, Grandma," she said, pushing her face under my chin, as if in her not wanting it, she was willing that it might never happen.

I lay there holding her in silence for a few minutes, tears dampening my pillow. "We all have to die someday, Baby Girl," I said. "Then we get to be with God in Heaven!"

"But I don't want you to be with God in Heaven; I will miss you!" she exclaimed.

"Well, Grandma plans to be with you a long, long time," I said. "We're gonna run in the fields, swim in the pool, walk down to the creek and throw rocks in it!"

Lying there beside her, though, I realized that life isn't always what we plan. Just last week, a beloved 21-year-old died tragically. Just today I visited my 80-year-old aunt dying from pancreatic cancer. So just now I'm realizing even more the brevity of life. And, yes, life isn't always what we plan.

I've been blessed with an uncanny ability to envision myself no longer here. Saddened at the thought of leaving those I love, I realize that earthly life is a moment in comparison to eternity...a second in a decade, a year in an era, a century in eternity. It's short. So very, very short.

And, yes, we all age from the moment we're born. No choice in aging except to die an untimely death. No choice but to watch the vision blur, the hearing dull, the arthritis set in, the mind forget. No choice but to know the heartbreak from haunting hurts, the loneliness from lost loves, the wrenching despair from devastating deaths.

But those are realities of life well lived...for unless we are vulnerable, we build walls to block pain. Unless we know and deeply understand others, we can't grasp the concept of loneliness. Unless we love with the greatest of love, we can't grieve in sorrow's depths.

Even today I am very much the 5-year-old walking the path to Grandma's house. The 12-year-old standing on the sidelines at my first junior high school dance. I'm the young bride marrying right out of college. The 23-year-old sitting at my dying grandmother's side, reassuring her she was "good enough" for God. I am the young mother playing guitar and singing "One Tin Soldier" to toddler sons. The teacher watching her students graduate year after year, wondering if those to come will be half as good as those leaving. The friend striving to understand others' needs.

We are who we are because of those segments in our passing lives, because of choices we've made along the way and people we've allowed to grip our hearts. And though age brings pain and heartache, it also brings overflowing love and joy. Age takes us a step closer to God and gives us a pressing sense of squeezing a little tighter, hugging a little longer, laughing a little more. It makes us turn to say "I love you" one last time before walking out the door.

Having an aging body doesn't mean giving up or giving in. It simply means moving a little slower, thinking a little longer, grasping new concepts with a little more difficulty. It means realizing even more the importance of scooting a little closer to this 3-year-old lying beside me, putting my arms around her and holding on like nobody's business.

The next morning I awoke with a little index finger poking my cheek. "You old, Grandma?" her whispering voice asked.

"Not yet, Baby Girl," I responded, rubbing her nose with mine. "Not quite yet."

04.08.12© Donna Arthur Downs

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