Remember when you were a kid, and you couldn’t wait to sit at the grown up table on holidays? No more mismatched chairs, paper plates and plastic cups at the rickety old card table. No sirree bub – you got the formal dining room and the good china at the adults table. You were where it was happening. Definitely a mini rite-of-passage, at least for this chick. As the oldest child and oldest grandchild I got to go first. Woo Hoo! Welcome to the Party, Pal!
But I want to talk about a different table. The Head Table. I don’t mean where Bride and Groom sit during their reception, or where the Silver and Gold Anniversary Couples get to sit. Those are cool places to be. The happy place – center of attention and hub of the party wheel. I want to talk about the table you get move up to – and sit at – when your parents pass away. Its not an actual table, but its a real thing nonetheless. And its emotional, and scary. If all goes as hoped, you’re bound for the cemetery next. Not that anyone hopes to die, but if The Fates are kind, they take you before your children.
When you step up to take your seat at the table (if those Fates have once again smiled upon you) you’re usually middle aged – and usually with children and grandchildren by that point. Sitting down, you get to take stock of your life to date. You evaluate your goals, reevaluate them and maybe even change career direction. Or divorce. Or remarry. Have a full blown nuclear mid life crisis.
Make a menopausally fueled Hit List. Or none of those things. But – underlying whatever is going on is the stark reality that there’s no human buffer zone between you and the Great Beyond anymore. No safety net below you as you stand on the platform at the ceiling of the Center Ring. Tag. You’re it.
I was chatting with my Aunt Jean the other day. She lives near Chicago, but we try to connect with one another as much as possible. She was 17 when I was born, and she’s my Godmother. We were discussing careers and work. She mentioned that at my age- I’m at the apex career wise. If I’ve reached for the brass ring already – great. If not, I’d better do it soon. She didn’t say so, but I thought – I’m approaching the Head Table, dammit. I haven’t sat down yet because my Mom is still with us; but I’m halfway up there as of 2007 when my Dad left us terribly, suddenly. Two of my best friends in the world – Cheryl and Martha – have a seat saved for me. Cheryl’s been sitting up there since 1999. Martha, since last year.
I’ll be in great company, but I’m really not ready to move up to the Head Table yet. Those Fates though, they don’t deign to ask whether or not you’re ready to sit up there. And if I had to guess, I would say that NO ONE is ever ready for a seat at this particular table. The view is probably lovely up there – friends, family etc. The love, palpable. But it seems a lonely place, regardless of the company you’re in. And, taking your seat up there acknowledges that you are, in point of fact, now an orphan.
So, as I meander towards my new assigned seating (which I FERVENTLY hope I will not have to sit in for a few years yet) I find myself asking the questions: Am I happy? What makes me happy? Do I matter? Selfish questions, but at my age I’ve paid enough dues in life to ask such selfish questions. I also ask unselfish ones: Have I made a difference to someone, helped someone, been a good parent? (Don’t ask my girls that until I’ve had a chance to bribe them) Hahaha! ;). And finally: What do I want to do with the next 30+ years of my life? I’ve certainly discovered a passion for writing and photography in the last year or so. I would like to build on that if I can.
What questions will you be asking yourself as you approach The Head Table? Or, what are you thinking about as you sit there? Inquiring Minds…. etc.