Sometimes you meet a person who puts your life in perspective. Someone who challenges your beliefs with their smile and handshake and general existence.
There are times in life when you realize that you have been limited – boxed in by your experiences – to the point that you have not imagined beyond the invented boundaries.
Last weekend we left the chaotic reality of Africa – left the stench and pulsating rhythms - for the peaceful crisp cool of the Avon river. We followed the smooth highways and combed the fresh green paths, far outside the confines of grey grimy London, to the South coast of England.
We arrived at my cousin’s place – a distant relative tied to me in loose yet inexplicably binding ways. The whole plan was orchestrated by e-mails and reassurances from family members that this would be a wonderful reunion. And it was.
He greeted us at the gates of the old mansion – his smile resounding, the smell of nearby pastures permeable. I instantly felt welcome. Within minutes we were seated around the table on the back porch, overlooking the duck pond, in the late afternoon sun, sipping fresh raspberry daiquiris and champagne, discussing our extended family’s convoluted history.
This cousin of mine has made a point of asking and gathering information and is now quite a source of information about our shared grand-relatives’ lives. For some reason we all want to know as much as possible about where we came from, what has contributed to make us who we are – sinew for sinew, trait for trait. I guess I am no different. We drank up all the information he could share and soaked up the sun, the spirit, the delicious pink of his cashmere sweater and the soft, lulling voices of the gang seated around us.
This cousin of mine has left quite an impression on me. He is an inspiration. A life that keeps living, hopeful, alive, exciting. The first thing he told us was his age. We spent the next two days disbelieving this statement in every way.
My cousin is 69yrs old. He has recently married and is the typically giddy, goofy newlywed with the grin of a 21yr old. His dress sense is the sophisticated cool of a 40yr old who has learned enough but still takes chances to look young and hip. His smile has the genuine surety of a 12yr old boy. His zest for climbing and biking and exploring his world are the defiant ready for the universe edge of a 19yr old.
My cousin and his new bride defy all the notions I’ve blindly accepted about age and limits and life’s predetermined steps. By 69 memories are life. Daily routines involve soft cereal and teeth floating in murky water. Power over bodily functions is not guaranteed and neither is recognizing ones’ self in a mirror. Dressing involves polyester and elastene. There are special stores that cater for this sector – churning out man made monstrosities that make the statement – I am old and hunched and dull pastels keep me comfortable. There are no vacations – barring the adventurous who make it to Florida annually. Decisions are influenced by the proximity to a health facility and a public restroom.
This cousin of mine met his bride online. They travel globally –enjoying good wine and gorgeous sunsets, after completing challenging treks and trails. They climb mountains and plan for the future. They appreciate beauty and indulgence and they watch TV with limbs intertwined. They wake up and dress for the day – jumping up to the possibilities that lie ahead.
My cousin is maroon and fire in the face of oatmeal grey. He is a deep magenta with olive undertones. He answers life’s rules with a vitality unknown to me before now.
And I thank him from the heart for proving what I forgot I knew – that rules are limited and small minded. That life is immense and multicoloured. That every day and week and month and year we have are blank canvases we fill in whichever way we choose. Life continues as long as you want it to. If you keep loving and tasting and smelling and stepping forward into it – the mist yields a new experience every single day.
Maybe it was the cool sea air or the pungent gardens but I woke up last weekend a little more. I appreciate the colours around me. The soft hand of my lover, the bright deep eyes of my son.
I see just a bit more clearly what life holds in store.
Life is about love and self confidence and good friends. And that does not change at any age.