I have a memory of sitting in my parents' house with my mother's mother. I was young, older than five but certainly younger than ten. My grandmother was in her early eighties. I sat near her and she held my hands, stroking the skin of my hands and fingers. She commented on how smooth my skin was, how strong my hands in comparison to her own.
I asked her why that made her sad, because she seemed near to tears.
She wasn't sad, she said. She was happy that I was such a fine young boy. But she wished her fingers didn't fumble so much, that her skin didn't wrinkle and sag; that when she looked in the mirror the woman looking back wasn't so old.
I told her she didn't seem that old to me.
She tried, choking back tears, to tell me, to warn me that she wouldn't be around for many more years, that before I knew it she'd be gone. She was a pragmatic woman, and to her the few years she knew she had left didn't seem like a long time. I think she was trying to teach me about mortality.
But I was a boy, and it was springtime, and a year was forever.
I told her that it wasn't fair that she was old, that death wasn't fair. Why should a person who wants to go on living have to stop?
And she took me by the shoulders, and her eyes filled with the steel of an eighty year old German farm wife, and she said "Timothy, whoever taught you that life is fair did you a great disservice. Life isn't fair, and if you go on expecting it to be you're going to be very disappointed."
Life isn't fair. It's about making the best from what you've got. It's about enjoying the good times and being tempered by the bad times. If you ask my grandmother, its about being thankful for all the little blessings in our lives. It's about learning virtue, and humility, and grace. It's about living a full life that you can be proud of when it ends.
And I remember years later, she told me she'd lived a full life that brought her joy. She was thankful for her wonderful family, and that she'd had enough good times to satisfy anyone. Her body was old, and ready for a rest. And she died.