I didn't want to do anything last night after Babygirl went to sleep, but I went to the YMCA to work out, then went to the grocery store. Turns out that 9 p.m. is a quiet time to buy groceries. Still, I wait in a line long enough to notice that Oprah is turning 50 in January. I think, "Hmmm, if Oprah's turning 50, then I'm turning 39?" I know she'll 11 years older than me, but I can't believe it, so I do the math. Sure enough, I'm almost 39. I wonder if this is a sure sign of my old age, not knowing my own age?
The boy-cashier asked me if I found everything. "I did, thanks," I say.
"Before you know it, it will be Christmas," he says.
"Less than two weeks," I say.
"Then it will be 2004," he says, "But what I'm really waiting for is 2005."
I think quickly. Graduation of some sort? High school? College? He looks like he's in junior high to me, but I have noticed that I can't judge age very well at my advanced age. College kids look like high-schoolers to me. Once I had a dentist younger than me, which I found oddly frightening.
"Graduation?" I say to this fresh-faced blond boy.
"No," he says, "I'm turning 21 in 2005."
"Oh," I say, "I'll be forty that year." The Oprah magazine cover is fresh in my mind, plus I was born in 1965, so I can count by fives pretty quickly, even as an old-fogey.
"Does that bother you?" he says.
"Not at all," I say, "Age doesn't bother me." And truly it doesn't. If it did, I'd probably remember what age I actually am.
"Would you go back to your twenties, if you could?" he says.
"No, not unless I could know then what I know now," I say.
"Why? Did you make a lot of mistakes?" he says.
"No, I just have more experience now and with more experience you get smarter. I wouldn't want to give that up," I say.
"What have you learned?" he says, eyeing me.
So, as he scans my bread and two packages of Oreos (on sale for $3 for both) and potatoes and cheese, I tell him, "I know to relax, not to worry so much. I've learned not to wish away my life, my weeks, my months, but to enjoy the moment. I've learned to enjoy people--my dad died when he was 47. When I was 20, I never would have guessed that I'd lose him."
Then I add, "Oh, and I'd go to a better school."
He looks at me curiously, then silence. Then, "So, with all this talk of the end of the world, do you think the world is going to end like the Bible and the tabloids say? Like California falling into the ocean?"
"No," I say, "and even if it did, what good would it do to worry about it?" I think for a fleeting moment of the verses in Matthew that talk about not worrying. But this is not a time for theology or eschatology. So I smile and pay him and push my huge basket of groceries to my car.
I think later that my instant response to his question was fairly accurate. I have learned to relax, to savor the moment, to enjoy the people here now. I know that the future will unfold like one of those big maps that is such a pain to refold correctly. I can just see part of the map, but that's enough. I'll be able to see the whole landscape soon enough.
In the meantime, I have strange conversations with young cashiers in the grocery store to remind me of what really matters.
(And as a postscript, my mother-in-law called today. Her apartment burned to the ground on Wednesday night. They lost everything. And they have no renter's insurance. Everything we have can turn into ashes before our eyes. It's what we can't see that really, really counts.)