"A Lifetime's Supply," by Meredy Amyx





A Lifetime's Supply

     I had one of those painful moments of truth the other day when I came to the gloomy realization that I'd reached the point in my career where, if I never buy another spool of gift ribbon, what I have now will last me the rest of my life.

     This is not about accumulating or stockpiling things or even about how long it's taken me to put away the last of the Christmas wrappings. It's about lifetimes.
     How casually we use the lifetime as a measure! In common speech it's thoughtless enough to be an empty cliché employed for exaggerated effect: "We're planning the trip of a lifetime." "The amount of cumin he uses in a week would last me a lifetime." "It's not as if that job offer were the opportunity of a lifetime." "My aunt keeps a lifetime's supply of shampoo in her bathroom cupboard."
     What, exactly, is a lifetime's supply? It's a rhetorical way of saying "a very large quantity" or "an infinite amount." But in the case of my friend's aunt, it would have been just enough shampoo to wash her hair one more time. Aunt Josie was elderly and lived alone with her cat, and her systems needed the support of the little reminder lists that she made for herself:
4:00 Feed Muffie
4:15 Shower
5:00 Eat supper
5:30 Leave
6:00 Meet Mary at Valley Cinema
9:00 Write to Catherine
10:00 Bed
     While she was standing in the box office line with Mary at Valley Cinema, she was accidentally jostled by a young man behind her. She lost her balance and fell. She fell in such a way that she hurt herself and could not get up. She was taken to the hospital emergency room and ended up in surgery for a broken hip. Recovery was slow. Two weeks after the operation, complications set in, and a week after that, Aunt Josie died in the hospital. She went to the movies and never came home again.
     My friend and her mother had the sad duty of emptying Aunt Josie's apartment, and they found the schedule on her desk. When she wrote it, Aunt Josie was unaware that she then possessed a lifetime's supply, not just of shampoo but of everything.
     What would the media do without the concept of "lifetime"? "The performance of a lifetime." "Lifetime achievement." "A lifetime of service." Or how about advertising? "The sale of a lifetime!" "Lifetime protection." And of course, "Comes with a lifetime guarantee." Now, there's an attractive notion. With a lifetime guarantee, I might know how much a lifetime's supply really is, and I could lay in enough shampoo or cumin or gift ribbon for the duration.
     But instead, seeing no end to my expected consumption, I've habitually overstocked. I pick up an extra spool of ribbon or two or a half dozen whenever I buy wrapping paper for a particular occasion, or when I'm gearing up for Christmas, or maybe even when I just happen to be passing the gift wrap section of the drugstore and notice a pretty color or remember that I'm running low on peach and lavender. Somehow I always imagine that I have less on hand than I actually do, or fail to consider that even if I ran completely out of peach or lavender, I could make do very nicely with violet or aqua or goldenrod or white or lime green.
     And so I found myself belatedly putting away the Christmas wrappings and attempting the futile task of cramming a dozen assorted new spools of ribbon into the box that was going back into the closet. I paused for a moment to look at what I had there: the variety of styles, the spectrum of colors, and most of all the sheer quantity. And that's when I had the thought: I am not going to live long enough to use up all this ribbon, not with all the birthdays and weddings and baby showers and graduations and Christmases I have yet to shop for in the probable remainder of my lifetime.
     There in that box of varicolored strips, narrow and wide, crinkle and satin and cloth and tinsel cord for all occasions, there is one measure of my lifetime. It comes without a lifetime guarantee.
     And it's finite after all.

Copyright © 2006 Meredy Amyx.
"A Lifetime's Supply" was completed on March 12, 2006. This essay appeared in the May 2006 issue of Intelligencer, the newsletter of San Francisco Regional Mensa.