Photo courtesy: http://www.freeimages.co.uk/
Despite the fact that all my best body parts have apparently decided to head south for a permanent vacation, I still believe in magic.
Just think about all the everyday miracles that we take for granted in our 21st-century brave new world. Airplanes that fly. Seeds that turn into flowers. Computers that let you chat with a friend in Australia as easily as the neighbor next door, as well as see a picture of her two-year-old daughter.
Life is basically a risky business, one in which we all eventually have to learn to live with the loss of many things sacred to us, whether it’s the wedding ring that disappears in the bathroom one day, the best friend who fades out of our life, or the soul mate who got away. The trick, I think, is having the courage to go forward into the unknown, because it is increasingly clear to me that old age—if we’re lucky enough to get there—is no place for sissies.
I was at an awards banquet the other night and ran into someone I know professionally. I asked about a mutual acquaintance of ours, a writer about my age. Martha gave me a strange look. “Suzanne passed away two months ago,” she said. “Didn’t you hear? She contracted some kind of virus, and it took her pretty quickly.”
I was floored. Although Suzanne wasn’t a close friend of mine, we were always friendly when we saw each other. Now that I’ve heard the news, her shadow has decided to follow me around. Here she was, a woman just like me…caught up worrying about her latest work project, thinking about wallpapering the kitchen, calling the phone company to straighten out a bill, having an argument with her husband. And then one day, despite the fact that her in-box was still overflowing and the laundry wasn’t done, she was gone.
She was a fellow night owl who also preferred to work when everyone else has gone to bed and all the good ideas are just lingering in the air, ripe for the picking. Once I sent her an e-mail at 1:00 a.m. and was shocked when her “Hi out there” came back to me instantly. It felt like trekking through the Sahara desert, a thousand miles from civilization, and running into an old friend from high school at the oasis. I rather liked the idea that somewhere out there in the black night someone was toiling away, alone with her thoughts, just as I was.
Since I have heard about Suzanne’s passing, I have become aware of every extra day I have been given that she has not. I find myself sitting in traffic no longer cursing the time I’m wasting, but enjoying the beauty of the shifting clouds in the sky. I read the obituary page, looking for a man or woman younger than me who has died. I always find one.
We always know at some intellectual level that we’re going to die, but we don’t really believe it, do we? We’re too busy. Now’s not a good time. In Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom, Morrie says that in order to be prepared to die, we should think about the little bird. “Every day, have a little bird on your shoulder that asks, ‘Is today the day? Am I ready? Am I doing all I need to do? Am I being the person I want to be?”
So these days I think a lot about that little bird. And I’m paying attention to those little joys that are tucked into the pockets of the ragged patchwork quilt of my life. Cold pillows. No-lick stamps. People who make me laugh. Books that make me cry. Music that makes me remember. A steaming cup of tea. Teenagers who still say, “I love you too.” Friends who are always there when I say “I need to talk.” Seeing a pelican on the shore. Plain M & Ms. A sister who understands my family’s particular insanity. Any houseplant I buy that survives more than three weeks.
These days, those simple pleasures mean more to me than any high-ticket item at Nordstrom’s.
How about you? What everyday miracles are you grateful for in your life?