No, not that kind of hoops. Another kind.
Wednesday, February 4. I entered Walmart with the simple mission of buying hoola-hoops for a Homecoming pep rally game. So mundane. So check-it-off-the-list. A non-moment. It was cold; I was thinking ahead to the dessert I needed to make for our small group that evening and to the Julius Caesar Act II tests that needed grading. Do all of life’s big moments happen when we aren’t looking, when we are hair-in-our-face, rooting-for-the-keys, don’t-forget-crisco?
No one buys hoola-hoops in February. So the big sparkly rings in my buggy were invitations to fellow shoppers to smile, laugh, remember, demonstrate ‘hoop’ skills. It really was like a Coke commercial and I was handing out free Cokes. The hoops were irresistible!
I rode the wave of the brotherhood of man up to the checkout line and knew not that I was about to splat on life’s unforgiving beach. A woman and her daughter stood behind me in line. Like everyone else they were captivated and intrigued by the hoops. They smiled involuntarily and then the woman, off the cuff, happily, and with 5 words, redefined me.
“Are those for your granddaughter?”
Even now, sitting here, I have a bottle-neck of thoughts clumping up in the narrow channel of my writing hand, each vying for first consideration.
~I realize the ridiculous arrogance of my shock at her comment. What did I expect? Did I think I was exempt?
~Though I do not have a grandchild, of course I’m old enough to have one. I am at the extreme outer edge of my mid-40s and our oldest child is 22. That’s not what surprises me and stops me cold. It’s that I LOOK like I could have a grandchild. That one look at me pegs me for Memaw, Nana, Gigi, Gran-Gran.
~What exactly do I look like?? I know what I thought I looked like. And ‘grandmother’ wasn’t in the tag list.
~How can this have happened on a gray, February Walmart run? Can’t we be dressed up and ready for the biggies?
~We all know it’s coming, we are just never ready for the first person to actually say it out loud to us.
~This is worse than being asked if you are expecting a baby when you are not. It might not seem like it, but an erroneous ‘When are you due?’ is an enormous compliment. It says you are easily recognizable as one in her dewy, fertile, springy youth. An erroneous ‘Are those for your granddaughter?’ says ‘You are a withered prune, a tumbleweed on the high plains, a bespectacled marm who conjugates verbs and nothing else.’
And then – perspective. Perspective came through the poet John Keats and from my seniors who are studying him. Keats gives us a beautiful urn with its pictured characters in the flush of a youth and beauty frozen in time, eternal.
And my brilliant students, young and beautiful, ponder and conclude: “Yes, but it’s a sterile beauty, one that never grows. It can never grow closer to the ones it loves. It can never achieve anything. It is a permanent beauty, but at the cost of growth and change. It is silent and barren. And that’s too high a price. Beauty and eternal youth are not worth it.”
Lessons from my students and hoola-hoops in February.