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Family

What would you do if this year were your last?

Posted March 30

Families are a fascinating thing.

By virtue of a name, or a strand of DNA, we are connected with a person of the past who would otherwise be a stranger. We might share the same color of hair, the same freckles on our cheeks — or maybe even the same birthday — but it’s enough to form a link that branches into a web that is our heritage.

The first time I realized my great-grandmother Arizona Rozena Lewis was born on my birthday 103 years before me, I was shocked. I never met her daughter, my grandmother Fleeta Stapleton Moritzky Choate, or any of her other children, and to me, Arizona was a ghost. She was an image buried in sepia tones and dust from another lifetime — but then, she shared my birthday.

I saw a glimmer of her reality. I knew nothing of her — how she died, how she lived, what made her laugh — but I knew she was a woman. She was born in Missouri in 1877. She had 10 children. And she had just turned 38 when she died. Her youngest child was three months away from his second birthday.

I think about Arizona every year when my birthday rolls around. It is sobering to me to think if I were to travel 103 years back in time, this year’s birthday would mark the beginning of her last full year of life on earth. I’m sure she didn’t know that at the time. But as I look back at her life, and consider my life as if it were hers, I’m filled with a reverence that makes me think I should approach this year with even more gratitude than I usually do. Perhaps I could live this year in honor of her. I could squeeze all of the life that there is to live out of every moment for her, and for my grandmother who was only 4 years old when she lost her mother — exactly the age my son will be.

With that in mind, here are 37 things I’m going to do in memoriam of Arizona this year:

  1. Write in my journal 37 times
  2. Take my children on 37 slow walks down the boulevard
  3. Collect 37 pictures of my children all together at the same time
  4. Take 37 selfies and put them somewhere my children can see them in 37 years
  5. Write 37 thank you notes (This is a hard one for me. I am notorious for writing thank you notes and not sending them for one reason or another)
  6. Tell each of my children I love them 37 times per week. (That’s about five times per day per child. Is that overkill? Maybe it should be 37 times a month?)
  7. Write each child a 37-word letter
  8. Dance in the kitchen 37 times
  9. Make 37 of the kids’ favorite kind of cookie (First, find out what is their favorite kind of cookie?)
  10. Run 37 miles (Easy, I know. Don’t judge.)
  11. Take the children to 37 parks. (Local, state and national — duplicates allowed)
  12. Read 37 books
  13. Laugh until I’m breathless for at least 37 seconds
  14. Go 37 days without raising my voice
  15. Make a list of 37 things for which I am grateful
  16. Witness 37 sunrises and 37 sunsets
  17. Tell family members 37 reasons why I like them
  18. Perform 37 acts of service
  19. Play Jenga (or other favorite family game) 37 times
  20. Tell children about Arizona, Fleeta and the number 37
  21. Hike 37 miles
  22. Bike 37 miles
  23. Skip social media for 37 days, consecutively
  24. Spend 37 hours per child, one-on-one, doing something they choose to do. (That’s a total of 111 hours, or 15 minutes 148 times each)
  25. Donate 37 things to charity
  26. Sleep at least 37 hours a week
  27. Plant 37 plants
  28. Try something new 37 times
  29. Swim 37 times
  30. Make a list of 37 favorites
  31. Plan 37 family activities (big and small)
  32. Play 37 songs on my guitar
  33. Teach the 4-year-old how to count to 37
  34. Give the kids 37 stars for good behavior
  35. Let 37 things go — worries, anger, etc.
  36. Take 37 minutes to meditate
  37. Record 37 things that bring joy

Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother Fleeta.

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