When I was 28, my then-husband and I went to hear a storyteller who, throughout the evening, sang each of his tales in a winding, high-pitched voice. We were as captivated by his delivery as we were by his stories, and one, about Colette’s mother, has stayed with me all these years. The song was about a letter Sido, as she was called, wrote to her second son-in-law, Henri de Jouvenel, after he invited her to Paris for a visit. In it, she refused the invitation because she feared she would miss the flowering of her pink cactus, an event that happened only once in four years, and was concerned she would not live to see it bloom again.
Several weeks ago, the clutch on my 2001 Echo began slipping and I knew I would have to replace it for an amount that was more than the car was worth. Since I couldn’t get financing unless I bought a new vehicle, I was pretty limited in my choices and so decided on a no-frills, though peppy, 2012 Yaris. Almost immediately, I found myself wondering if it would be my last car and if I would want to leave the planet without ever having had electric windows.
Although it’s possible, but unlikely, that I will live another 30 or 40 years, it’s just as possible, and more likely, that I will live only another 10 or 20 years. And, of course I could die much sooner than that—and at any time. Because I have always been afraid of death and have never wanted to think much about it, it seems almost lawful that I should now feel a sense of gravity, even finality, about each choice I make, no matter how prosaic.
It is well known that Colette rewrote her mother’s letter before including it in her 1928 memoir, Break of Day, but this fact makes it no less instructive. As I write, I find myself wondering if it will be possible to live out the moments left to me with the wonder of a child who thinks she will go on forever and the quiet acceptance of an adult who knows she will not.