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Blog: On Health. On Writing. On Life. On Everything.

The Chinese Scroll

March 5, 2013

Tags: order, food, age, aging, antibiotic, antitoxin, baby, birth, Brussels, childbirth, Chinese, dinner, diphtheria, divorce, doctors, Europe, foolish & dangerous things, hitchhiking, love of life, luck measles, mother, nurse, Paris, parties, pediatric ward, perils, pneumonia, scroll, sick baby, The Chinese Scroll, tuberculosis, underage drinking, understanding, women, World War II, youth

At a fancy dinner, across the table, another guest talked about “women of a certain age.” I looked him straight into the eye and said: “I am not a woman of a certain age. I am 68.” There were a few gasps at the table.

Age seems to be a problem. But not if you have been a very sick baby that should not have survived 6 months when she came down with the double whammy of measles and diphtheria (they put her into a corner to die, and told the mother not to bother) – at the end of World War II in Europe when there were no antitoxins, no antibiotics, and no food. Or should have died of pneumonia every winter of her childhood. Or should have died of tuberculosis at age fifteen (or thereabouts). Or should have died in childbirth because the doctors deemed her too week to give birth of a baby of her own. Or should have died in her forties when the doctors thought she was too old for another baby. Not to mention two heartbreaking divorces, and all the foolish and dangerous things she went through in her youth: Hitchhiking alone from Brussels to Paris, drinking underage at parties – and more foolish & dangerous things I better don’t relate here.

Not sure what kept me alive during all those perils. Love of life, probably. And sheer luck.

But so it comes that I am not afraid of getting older – only curious, and proud.

I see my life as a Chinese scroll: Every day the scroll unrolls a bit more, and – surprise! surprise! – showing more and more of my improbable, disorderly, wonderful life: A gorgeous picture! Still a bit unfolding at the edges every single day. And how lucky I am to still be here, and see it unfolding, understanding more of myself, understanding better the forces that worked on me and nudged me and pushed me forward!

Oh, and that baby there, left to die in a corner of the pediatric ward? I imagine a kindhearted nurse who must have touched me and fed me and cuddled me secretly to keep me alive. And then, two weeks later, they called up my mother: Would she, please, finally pick up that healthy baby that was eating the food of all the other babies on the ward?
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. 2012, by Lolita Parker jr.

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