A la una - the times of life
Las horas de la vida
Sephardic folk song
Arranged by Mathilda Salvador (1918-2007)
Laura Wayte, soprano
David Rogers, guitar
A la una yo nasi,
a las dos m'engrandesi,
a las tres tomi amante,
a las cuatro me casi.
Dime, nina, donde vienes,
que te quiero conocer.
Dime si tienes amante,
que yo te lo he de prender.
Yendome para la guerra
dos besos al aire di;
el uno es para mi madre
y el otro es para ti.
At one o’clock I was born
at two I grew up
at three I took a lover
at four I got married
Tell me, girl, where you come from
because I want to get to know you
Tell me if you have a lover
And I will steal you away from him
On my way to the war
I sent two kisses into the air;
the first is for my mother,
and the other is for you.
-translation by David Wacks
The hours of life - Las horas de la vida. I feel the concept behind this old Spanish song deeply right now so today I am searching through song for aging. My life is full of both adolescents chomping at the bit, and grandparents not clear on their next steps. Neither is sure of how to achieve the new stage they are relentlessly entering. The kids are wanting more of everything and wishing the wanting wasn’t so unsettling. While my children are stepping into the anxiety of existence, my 80-year-old mother-in-law’s lifelong anxiety is eased by no longer being able to track what to worry about. For her, this next stage, dementia, is a gift.
Growing up is difficult. I remember adolescence. From this distance I have far more emotional memory for the good aspects: more freedom, more power to make my own life, voracious hunger for answers and relishing the search. I am aware that I often felt despair and overwhelming confusion, but I can no longer feel that pain. It turns out it is true that time heals all wounds. But don’t count on it helping your adolescent children today.
Lindy West wrote of deciding what to be when you grow up:
“...tell me what sort of niche you plan to carve out for yourself in the howling existential morass of uncertainty known as the future…”
I laughed when I read that and shared it aloud with my husband. We laughed knowingly, shaking our heads, “How true.” Reading it aloud to our daughter, however, was not at all funny. Then it became “Too true.”
Meanwhile, growing old is also difficult, but less so since we have so many more tools by then. We have been bruised and knocked around enough to know that each blip and swerve on the path to our goals isn’t the undoing of our progress. The setback is likely temporary. If you look at it correctly, even the worst-case scenario has a silver lining: it may nudge us toward a better goal.
So it is easier to help the mother-in-law. She wonders, “Why are you here today? What are you doing “up here” where I live?” I live here, too, and we are going to purchase some new pajamas for the colder weather. “How... how did you come to do this?”
“Well, the people at the facility told me you may need warmer pajamas. They are worried you’ll get cold as the weather is changing.”
“Really? They called you? ...Isn’t that something…”
One-hundred and twenty heartbeats later: “Why are you doing this for me?” she asks. We have chosen the cute pajama with sketches of Rome all over it and are walking toward the changing room.
I say, without thinking, “Love. I am here to help you.” She blushes and tears up and hugs me. It wasn’t a difficult thing to say, but it is also true that when I left the house this morning I didn’t feel love. I felt something more akin to duty.
She tells me I am kind. I feel grateful that I have room in my life this morning to turn away from my own issues and help her. And grateful that she is easy to help. She now feels happy and feels cared for. There is nothing better than feeling responsible for that, and I remind myself of the privilege.
My kids’ problems are not usually this simple anymore. No more band-aids and kisses to make the pain go away. Neither they nor I can see the source of the pain anymore. I am thankful that the energy it takes to help their grandmother is not great. By caring for her I actually earn confidence. It energizes me to be effective, even in these small ways, so I have confidence to help and navigate the more turbulent kids.
At my age, the middle, I need that confidence. Because there we are, my husband and I, in the middle and feeling overwhelmed. Grateful. Concerned. Resigned. Ready to shelter all these ‘horas de la vida” for our loved ones. And tired because we are sheltering all these transitions for our loved ones. But it is a good tired.