My husband is turning 60 – decades are collapsing like deckchairs
Occasional forays into mindfulness websites make me want to buck the trend and dwell savagely in the past
My husband is going to be 60 soon. Nothing unusual about that; time marches on, and all that jazz. It’s just that I clearly remember when he turned 50 (can that really have been a decade ago?) and my brother offered to babysit for the weekend, so we, in a kind of haphazard fashion, lashed over to Edinburgh, where a pleasant cinnamon-scented woman married us in the registry office there at three o’clock on a chilly Friday afternoon. (I was deliriously ill with a chest infection at the time, and self-medicating with champagne and steroids, a situation I could no doubt exploit were I seeking an annulment.)
And I remember his 40th, when we were renting a bone-cold basement flat off Dublin’s Leeson Street and our first child was about six months old, and some friends came over that night, and the baby decided to join the party, and someone brought a cake, and glasses were raised, and nobody asphyxiated from inhaling the damp spores that crawled up the bathroom wall like khaki-coloured commandoes.
That crib-warm baby is 20 now, a man.
I didn’t know my husband when he turned 30, when he was still living in London, though I think the occasion may have involved an unintentional canal swim with a punky girl the size of a thimble. And I certainly didn’t know him when he, like our son, was 20, his whole life stretching before him.
I wrote recently about running into an old friend, a man I hadn’t seen for a number of years, who was widowed when he was in his 50s, a gentle character whose parting words to me were “make memories, not plans”, words that seemed to resonate for some of us, words that have continued to resonate for me.
Sorry to beat on about this – it’s just I’ve realised that, with decades collapsing like mottled deckchairs, it’s entirely possible that we’ll be rolling into 2027 in about 20 minutes’ time. Another decade will have passed in which I’ll doubtless still be searching under the bed for the car keys while simultaneously burning the cauliflower rice to a guilt-free cinder, only this time – given my family history – with the unwelcome addition of a baby-blonde wig and a titanium hip.
I lay awake the other night feeling hot and fossilised, listening to two neighbourhood cats howling their libidinous intentions to one another in someone else’s garden. (My own cat was asleep at the end of the bed with her night cream on, her paws soaked in lanolin, her nightdress buttoned to her neck.)
I lay awake, the digits on my phone pounding towards morning, wondering where January had disappeared to. (I think someone may have left it under the sink.)
Time for a new philosophy, I thought, as the alarm peeled.
“Stagnant muscles, stagnant minds,” I said to the cat, getting up to make the coffee.
“Forget your pockmarked past, to hell with an unknowable future, starting from today we’re going to attempt, once again, to live in the here and now!”
“Ham?” she asked in her squeaky little voice. “Haaam?” (She’s a cat; she doesn’t get why humans bother with existential anxiety when they have unfettered access to processed haaam.)
“No ham,” I replied. “Think about your arteries.”
She licked her lanolin paws in disdain.
One of my problems with attempting to live in the moment is a reflexive dislike of much of the language and imagery that has grown around the idea of mindfulness in recent years. Occasional forays into mindfulness websites (usually in the middle of the insomniacal night, clutching a cup of cold tea) make me want to buck the trend and dwell savagely in the past, or blindly hurl myself into the next millennium, impulses that I appreciate are entirely down to my own immaturity and stubborn refusal to play nicely.
And yes, of course, those that espouse mindfulness are correct: one can’t fully appreciate today if one is worrying too much about tomorrow, and tomorrow is going to happen whether we worry about it or not. But do we all, as the websites would seem to imply, have to practise our insouciance on empty beaches, bathed in tranquil sunshine, while dressed in unflattering beige pyjama pants?
“Today is full of endless possibilities!” I told the cat as we creaked down the stairs. “Start it with a smile.”
“Haaam,” she replied.
I gave in, unpeeling a slice from the parchment packet.
After all, who knows what’s around the corner?