Susan Vollenweider: It’s about time

12/31/2013 12:00 AM

12/30/2013 7:55 PM

“Be careful of my hat. It’s in that bag!” an older woman wearing another stunning Sunday’s best on her head instructed me from her aisle seat as I stowed my gear in the shared overhead compartment.

“Yes, ma’am. Your hat will be snug in here next to my coat.”

She was unable to stand well, so I climbed over her to get myself settled. There was discussion of whose seat belt was whose and how it worked. She seemed sweet but nervous.

I was on the last leg of a long series of flights home, and Kansas City was still 2 1/2 hours trapped in a window seat away. I took a book from my tote, adjusted the light and assumed the Pretend I’m Not Here Even Though Our Thighs Are Touching stance.

As the plane began to glide down the runway, my seatmate’s chatter quickened. She was going to visit her “youngest baby” and many grandchildren. She didn’t like to fly. I told her that all that she had to do was sit and the pilots would take care of the flying, but it didn’t seem to work.

As soon as the engines revved for takeoff, she grabbed my leg and dug her nails in.

“The good Lord always seats me next to someone who will hold my hand.”

So I held her hand while she closed her eyes and proclaimed the name of the good Lord over and over.

I put my book away. There was going to be no reading on that flight. The history nerd in me was fascinated by what this woman had seen in her long life, and the mom in me understood that terror is no obstacle when it comes to spending time with our children.

When all the Good-Bye, 2013/Hello, 2014 lists began appearing I thought of her again and of the many years she had experienced, and how they shaped her and made her the brave woman I met.

How the years that I’ve lived make me who I am.

I feel each of my years. Is that weird? I don’t feel old, although my kids will tell you that I am, but I feel lived. Like a pair of jeans that used to be new and stiff, but over time aged and softened not to perfection, but to comfort.

How long does this comfort phase last? When is a rear pocket going to rip out, a seam going to give or the style appear dated?

I have no idea. But right now I feel the comfortable result of all my years.

I feel them in a one-word, or simple raised-eyebrow conversation with my husband.

I feel them when I look into the maturing faces of my own babies and see how infant expressions and mannerisms developed into childhood quirks that have held through teenage years.

I feel them with my parents. As I watch them gray and slow, I easily see the youthful people who energetically and lovingly led me to adulthood.

I feel the years with my friends — people with shared experiences and common bonds.

I feel them in my work — words formed into thought that never would have occurred to me 15, 10 … 5 years ago.

I feel them in humor and sadness, in joy and sorrow. Whenever I think I have felt every emotion available, another one is added to the inventory.

Thanks to a seasoned woman with at least two lovely hats, I realized that I feel the softened-to-comfort years that have passed, and the joy of the ones to come.

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