06 December 2009

A Bridge And A Gate At The End Of The Day

After yesterday's rain and driving wind, the cold, crisp, clear air felt good. Late this afternoon, I walked to Astoria Park, where the sunset and twilight feel as if they're made of stone, steel and the reflections in the wakes of boats plying the deceptively calm East River. That passage, between Queens, Randall's Island and Manhattan, is called Hell Gate. A number of ships ran aground there; a few actually broke up and sank.

A long, arched railroad bridge spans the river from Manhattan, through Roosevelt Island and onto the Queens side. Amtrak trains rumble over it; with its steel girders and stone embankments at each end, it's not hard to picture the steam engines that used to harrumph across it, then screech around the bend a bit beyond the park and whine as they faded into the distance. Somehow the modern Amtrak trains seem even more archaic and anachronistic than those steam engines would; they somehow accentuate the passage of time and another day passed.

As I started to walk home from there, I called my parents. They had to cancel the trip up this way they'd planned for Thanksgiving week; now they've cancelled the trip they'd planned for Christmas, which they were going to spend with my brother and his family. Neither of them, especially my mother, has been feeling well. What used to take days to heal now takes weeks or even months. On top of those ailments are new ones that come, at least in part, from aging.

Tonight, for the first time (that I can recall, anyway), I thought of my parents as old. Even when I was a kid, I didn't think of them that way. That may have to do with my being the eldest child and the fact that my parents were young (though not particularly so by the standards of their generation) when I was born. So, while neither of my parents ever tried to walk, talk or do anything else the way any of my peers or I did them, I never felt the sort of generational gap between me and them that a lot of other kids felt between them and their parents. That's not to say we didn't have (or still don't have!) disagreements. But I never felt that either of them--especially my mother--was living in a world entirely different from my own.

One irony is that now I feel this distance in age--and, more important, in what we can expect from the rest of our lives--as we have, in many ways, grown closer. Another irony is that I am in what's normally called middle age, which is the stage of life my parents were living in my early adulthood. Now that I am living what I saw them live, I understand what they're thinking and saying more than I previously could. I might even say that I empathise with them in ways I couldn't when I was younger. And now they understand me better.

I offered to go and spend Christmas with them, as I did last year. Mom reminded me that I might not find a ticket, and that if I found one, it would be extremely expensive. Besides, she said, she would rather rest. I can't say I blame her.

I just hope I get to see her and Dad soon. It's not that I have anything urgent to talk about with them. Besides, after what I've been through and what I've done, what can be so urgent--besides spending time with them? Even if they were to live another thirty years, that would matter more than anything else that I can think of.

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