I've been staying at my grandmother's home over the holidays. My grandfather built this house, with his own two hands, over fifty years ago and it's the place where my family has gathered since before I was born. The green couch in the living room is where my aunts and uncles lined up each grandchild as we were born for a group photo. The Christmas tree has been decorated in the same corner with colored bulbs since my mother's childhood. The basement door even brings memories of my Pepere dressed as Santa coming up from the cellar instead down through the chimney.
Today, as I grabbed orange juice from the fridge, I looked at the photo collage of great grandchildren hung by magnets on the doors. Generations of smiles stared back at me. On the side of the refrigerator I noticed a piece of paper with my grandmother's signature. I realized it was a DNR. This paper, hung on the side of a major appliance, hit me hard. It was as if saying that you didn't want to be resuscitated was as common in life as running out of milk.
Strangely, above the DNR was a picture magnet of my Great, Great, Uncle Louie Charpentier who recently turned 100 years old. In honor of his birthday, he was Grand Marshall in the town Christmas parade. The city honored him as Mr. Christmas. My uncle is a master carver who each year decorates his front yard with a winter wonderland of carvings and allows people to walk his property. At 100-years-old, Louie Charpentier still lives alone in his home. When asked his secret to a long life he responds, "Staying in good shape. Being passionate about something you love, and never getting bored."
I looked at the DNR again. My grandmother had retired in her early sixties and started her own business as a bridal seamstress. She hiked mountains, went camping, and rode her bike almost daily in good weather. Then an Anuerysm and stroke changed her life. My grandparents had always planned to travel in their late sixties but had decided to do it ten years earlier when my grandfather was forced into early retirement from the fire department due to an injury. They always said, "If we'd waited we woudn't have been able to go."
On Sunday night, I went to Boston in the middle of a Nor'easter storm. Snow blanketed the streets and the wind blew the flakes sideways. The streets were empty except for cabs and plows and the few people who ventured out in search of an open restaurant. My friend and I were staying in the Theater District and after a long day we thought about staying inside, ordering room service and curling up to watch the snow fall. But there was adventure out in the cold and I couldn't resist.
The wind at times blew me off balance. The flakes covered my hat and I had to keep my head down to avoid the wetness pelting my eyes. I stepped knee-deep in snow drifts soaking my jeans, but I didn't care. We walked through the streets enjoying the sweet calm of snowfall that had caused the world to shut down. The snow turned the street lamps' glow to an orange candlelight that made all of Boston a romantic set.
When we were soaked through we found the only open restaurant on Boylston St. We feasted on potato salad, sandwiches, mac and cheese, and beet salad while listening to music and watching the snow. As the warmth defrosted our frozen bodies the calm after cold fresh air sent us into a relaxed bliss.
Today, as I stared at the DNR, I thought about how choosing to play in that storm had created so many memories. Each one of us will come to the point where death seems imminent. We hope that like my uncle we celebrate 100 years with plans to keep going strong. But the one truth about life is that we don't know. We've been given this gift of living and a huge playground in which to play. If we wait, if we curl into comfort instead of forging ahead to play, then we might just miss our chance to really live while we can.
Photos by James Tennery, Marci Nault, and Carol Geier