My grandmother is still alive, at least she is as of my typing this. If she makes it that long, she’ll turn 95 this summer.
Do those statements sound callous? Perhaps a little, but that is the way we all seem to talk about her. The way we’ve been talking about her. For years.
Honestly, for a woman born in 1919, she’s in remarkably good shape. Oh, sure she has a myriad of health problems, but she still lives at home with a 70-year-old daughter. She goes to church on Sundays, and she gets around the house on her own, sometimes without the walker when she forgets to grab it. Oh sure, sometimes she’ll seem to lose track of a conversation that doesn’t directly involve her. But I think that is because she’s bored, or the subject doesn’t make sense to her, so seems unimportant.
Actually her biggest problem has more to do with that last sentence than with her physical health. She is uninterested in the global, interconnected, social-media driven world that exists now. She has lived beyond her own curiosity.
The lack of curiosity means she doesn’t understand the way the world has changed in past few decades. And as we all know, a lack of understanding results in fear. In my Grandmothers case, her fear comes out as anger. She’s angry at everyone and terrified of everything. Everything. It is easy to blame the Faux news she watches religiously, but I think even without that, she’d be convinced the country is going to hell-in-a-handbasket.
She wants nothing to do with any technology invented after 1980. She’ll never read this because the word ‘blog’ is meaningless to her. And despite the efforts of several very computer-literate offspring, she won’t even use email to keep in touch with her thirty-four far-flung grandchildren. But… I’m going to stop there with my list of things she won’t do. Because I realize none of this sounds very nice. And I don’t want to be mean to her. I love her.
But this terrified, angry, uncurious woman is not my grandma.
I loved my grandma. She was a storybook grandma, full of soft, comfortable hugs and good smells. She could bake an apple pie in a twinkling of an eye, and make my favorite sliced-egg-sandwich-and-chocolate-milk lunch better that anyone. When I had those horrible headaches in eighth grade that made me sick to my stomach, it was on her couch where I hid from the light. She took care of us when our parents were away, and the house just felt right when she was there. She was the best tutor and the best nurse, ever. I always felt important and special in her eyes. She was always smiling.
She doesn’t smile so much anymore. She’s too angry.
Is it possible to live too long? I hate to think so, because I plan on living a long, long time. (I’ve got awesome longevity genes in my blood.) But what if I hit 70 or so and I stop finding the world as wondrous as I see it now? What if I stop being curious? I can imagine a kind of saturation point, where your brain has absorbed everything it can and there is no room for anything new.
My mom and some of her siblings come up with new plans all the time to try to drag Grandma into the modern world. My siblings and I say, why don’t you just leave her alone? But maybe that’s wrong. Because if I am ever in that odd place, between living and dying, where participating seems difficult and scary and perhaps pointless, I might want someone to at least try to drag me kicking and screaming into the future.
Who knows, maybe there is way to reboot curiosity?
We won’t know unless we try.