Sherri Ellerman - Monroe, Louisiana
As heard on the This I Believe podcast, September 8, 2014
Sherri Ellerman

As a child, Sherri Ellerman recalls her mother being worried about her age and living in fear of growing older. However, when her mother died at the age of 36, Ellerman realized that it isn't the number of days or months or years of life that matter. What matters is the one life we have to live.

When I was a child, my mother often worried about her age and complained about growing older. I struggled to find answers as to why she lived in such fear. When I first understood that I wouldn’t live forever, I went to Mama for answers and for comfort. She provided the answers I feared, but instead of comforting me, she only added,

“At least you have more time left than I do.”

Her response didn’t comfort me then or in the years that followed. I worried about death and grieved, knowing that my life would eventually end.

At the age of thirty-six, Mama was diagnosed with lung cancer and was gone six months later. It was years before I let myself read her diaries, but when I did, it was these two sentences that changed my perspective on life and all I believed:

“I don’t know why I spent my life worrying about my age. Now I just wish I could grow old.”

The one thing that Mama feared the most became the thing she most desired—simply to grow old.

I was fifteen when Mama died. I went from a carefree teenager, whose greatest concerns were tests and basketball games, to the woman of the house. I planned meals and bought groceries. I washed and ironed Daddy’s shirts. My identity wasn’t dependent on numbers and milestones. Time was no longer a thief stealing days from my life but was, instead, a reminder of how many days I’d been blessed to live.

When I turned forty-five, I was asked if it bothered me to turn another year older. I responded,

“Why would I be upset over the fact that I was allowed to turn forty-five? I’m celebrating another year that I got to live and experience the things I enjoy and to be with the people I love. How could I ever be upset about that?”

I now see each day as a continuation of the preceding one, separated by a moment of darkness. Like the ever-seeing eye that for a second is hidden behind a heavy lid, yearning for yet hurrying through the blink, a day is hidden by darkness, only to be renewed by it. Although time is invisible, I once allowed it to define my life. By putting it into neat little boxes called days, I learned to put too much emphasis on ever-changing numbers and lost sight of the only number that really mattered—one. Although Mama left this world with hair that was yet to gray, she was given the same thing as those whose bodies were lined with age—one life. It wasn’t a life to be compared to that of another, but to be lived as if there was no such thing as yesterday or tomorrow—only today.

I believe that my life should not be defined by numbers but by what I have experienced and what I have given of myself. When I’m gone, the number of years attached to my life will not matter. What I have given of it to others will.

Sherri Ellerman is an Occupational Therapist from Louisiana. She is in her tenth year of homeschooling her children and has recently gone back to work part time as a therapist. She spends her free time writing and has had flash fiction stories published in River and South Review, Estuary, and 50-Word Story. Her article, "Five Steps to Consider in Romance Fiction," was published at "Write Well, Write to Sell.” When Sherri isn’t teaching, writing, or working, she enjoys camping with her family and playing games.