My mother is 81 this year. I saw her last when she was 50. I look at myself in the mirror now, at 63 and it is her features I see in many essential ways. But when I wake in the morning and sit up to take my coffee cup from my husband, my mind’s eye does not see that image. I no longer see myself at age 23, when I was wed, either. I see and “feel” myself – oh, maybe 40? But lately, the last three years or so, I can feel something slipping into feeling oh so much older.
I notice it particularly on Fridays. Fridays are now when I most commonly walk the Labyrinth with names of men or women often younger than my youngest child. Sometimes, now, I walk it with no names in hand at all — I am trying to set a new habit, you see? Every day around 20 veterans suicide, I have no way to find their names to add to my bitter books. But I know they are gone and they deserve a walking.
I walk, singing, now amidst the fallen leaves and rusty pine needles. And I feel so very old. It is not, as one might think, the hurts to the body that alone age us. At 40 I had nerves dead of spinal injury and still felt young and hale, if in pain! In 2003, the year I built the Walk of the Fallen, I was 50 and I grew strong and muscular hefting big stones and digging soft soil lined trench. I wore out several pair of heavy gloves. I felt crazy hearing the air hum with voices of people who could not possibly have been there.
And then every week, several times a week, I took a cup and a list and walked – thinking for the nation that was busy “going shopping” or whatever else they were told to do to NOT think about the sons and daughters of the not rich 1% who make up the nations volunteer military. Sons and daughters dying, bleeding, suffering, coming home in boxes, or in still-breathing pieces of what they used to be – before the war. Sometimes, in the first three years, I came back into my own house, shivering even in summer, to collapse in exhaustion of a sort I’d never known. But I kept going and got used to it – as used to it as one can.
But the war(s) are going on 15 years old with no end in sight. The names are reduced in number because Afghanistan and Iraq are not done, although neither Presidential candidate mentions it — well, except for Trump blaming the twin wars George Bush began on Hillary Clinton. So for the last couple years, onFridays in particular, I notice I feel very tired and aged from the second I open my eyes. Yesterday I lingered till almost dark for the Friday walk, and then realized it was pouring a cold heavy rain. So the walk waited till today. And again, it seemed I’d need a set of jumper cables applied to get me moving.
I built the Walk in a fury, in heartbreak and in grief. I wanted someone to care and practically nobody did. Finally, within a few bitter months, I simply wanted to feel like the men and women whose names I cupped in my hands felt welcomed home, remembered — not so ignored as it seemed the general populace left them to be. I was ashamed, not only of a President starting wars with no strategy to finish and get the military out, but of my nation for not caring that the blood of the military 1% was being spent so carelessly, thoughtlessly, heartlessly. Fifteen years of war, with no real peace in sight.
What ages me? The carelessness, the thoughtlessness, the heartlessness of my nation, that I carry in my shamed hands once a week. The faces I saw in my sleep or in waking visions while treading sandstone age me — I’d happily have let slip my own cords to life to save one of them. But that wasn’t my option. I had no option. Neither did they, “volunteer” military aside. Education too costly, jobs too sparse — old men who send young men to wars they profit from, while none of their own dear ones go in harms way — war and shame age me.
And looking at my world? I am glad to be old instead of young.