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As the holidays approach, I get little reminders that my late grandmother suffered from dementia before she died. I forgot a loaf of date and nut bread, my other grandmother’s holiday treat, best smothered in cream cheese, baked for nearly three hours and had to stubbornly dig it out like a pineapple to save the edible center. I sometimes walk into rooms where I open the fridge, stop and ask, “Why am I here?”
These may be the first red flags. Or maybe I’m just a 42-year-old mom. The holiday season is like the rest of the year, but on steroids. The dietary needs and wants of our three children range from food to feed themselves to a Christmas feast with three different favorite side dishes, pies, sugar cookies and that favorite treat to put in their stockings that is out of stock everywhere and $54.99 on Amazon. Potlucks are ubiquitous, and the school has end-of-semester presentations and dioramas and glue-and-paint-stained fingers at 9 p.m.
The house needs to look less like a bomb that has exploded to visitors, colleagues are traveling and no one answers emails, and I have to keep cleaning up fallen ornaments and pine needles where our cats have been playing hide from – cache in Christmas tree.
When I momentarily forget cats’ names as I chase them out of the room, maybe it’s not genetic. Maybe my brain is running out of room.
When I was in my early twenties, I wanted to install a video game that my brother had obtained through a secondary channel from the Internet. He’s a computer programmer and just as computer savvy as I am, so he did what any good big brother would do: he refused to install it for me until I read his favorite book, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, by Douglas Adams. I ended up loving it and read the whole series.
In the first book, it is revealed that the Earth is actually a huge supercomputer designed to discover the answer in the sense of “life, the universe, and everything”. After eons of processing, the answer is finally revealed: 42.
Douglas Adams was an avowed atheist, but I see now, before my 42nd Christmas, that there may be some truth in his joke. At 42, we’re living the fullness of life: we’re regular superheroes, fairies, and playmates with our kids. We also take on leadership roles at work and with other organisations, making sometimes difficult decisions for the group and passing on years of knowledge to younger colleagues. We control our hobbies. We help our parents with heavy lifting and organize family gatherings. We can still endure physically and compete athletically, but our knees are starting to make weird clicking noises, the number of gray hairs are starting to get in the way of waxing, and we’re wondering and wondering, more and more urgently, and not always because we don’t remember why we walked into a room, “Why am I here?”
At Christmas, some of us celebrate the earthly arrival of a God who exhorts us by his example to love one another, to give, and to do so with humility. At 42, if we’re lucky, we might have the extra strength and resources to give more, whether it’s our work, our attention, our knowledge or our love for children, colleagues and those who had same 42 years old. It can be exhausting and can sometimes make us think we’re losing our minds, but maybe that’s also the meaning of life, the universe and everything.
Kara Sorbel works and lives in Anchorage with his family.
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