Eleven Minutes, by Juliet DeWal
Did I ever tell you? asks my elderly friend as I pour us both some tea. Her nails are painted a vibrant pink, her cardigan even brighter. When her eyes meet mine, I know she has no idea who I am, but like a hopeful child, she trusts my intent is kindness, my smile is genuine, and I have more than enough time to listen.
It was just before The War, she begins. For the next eleven minutes, she tells me stories I have heard at least five times a visit, on average, for three years. Did I ever tell you? and she has. Nearly five thousand times. I sip my tea, lean forward in my chair, Tell me everything!
I spend my days with the elderly. Carry their memories. Know their histories. See their need and know their lack, even as I am enriched by their wisdom and the depth of character each of them possess. I get to know their lives in repetition, in detail over and over again... five, six, eleven minutes, sometimes two minutes at a time. Again and again. Did I ever tell you?
It all makes me wonder—will there be a time when my life, with all its colour and words and wonders, with all its love overflowing and beauty that haunts me is reduced to a year of life? a month? my birthdays? eleven minutes?
I carry that question with me sometimes. I like to rub it between my fingers like a smooth stone.
It makes me aware of my choices—is this important enough for those eleven minutes? Do I want to fill my time with moments that don’t carry me forth to that One-Day me that will live in them? Do I want to tell this five thousand times?
And what would my eleven minutes be? I’m too old and life has both humbled and amazed me too much for me to believe I can begin to imagine what those days would be like.
But I hope there will be a few moments of that sunset we saw on the beach last summer. That I’ll be able to describe the first moments I see the island, that if I close my eyes, I’ll be able to breathe in the scent of my newborn’s breath and when I open them again, I’ll call to mind his smile today... last week... a decade ago... a decade more. Perhaps it will be the travelling I've done, the kindness of strangers and how terrified I was on those mountain passes... Perhaps it'll be Kensington market in the summer or Friday nights, fresh cut grass, a popsicle and no school on Monday. I hope I’ll tell some random healthcare worker about my favourite kisses, drifting off to sleep to the sound of poetry...Perhaps I’ll taste the sorrow of loss or how good forgiveness feels and all the times I was so embarrassed I laughed myself hoarse. Maybe my minutes will have a tinge of sorrow laced with hope and I hope I’ll end up laughing. Perhaps they’ll be shocked for a moment and relieved the next... and maybe, just maybe, from my lips will spill wonder.
For I have lived a life I’d want to taste again and again, eleven minutes at a time.