Have you ever had the experience of driving on a slippery road when the car suddenly begins an uncontrollable swerve? That moment of...what? Fear? Apprehension?...awareness of having no control over what's happening and not knowing what comes next? It's exactly how I view the process of my aging.
I realize I have no right to complain—to do so is, in fact, an act of supreme ingratitude for the gift of having been allowed to live as long as I have when so many billions of others have not. And this is not addressed to anyone who lives with physical problems, many of which are far worse than my own. Yet I cannot help but cling, sometimes desperately, to the past and to grieve for all those things I've done that I will/can never do again: run, eat a full meal, lift my head high enough to look at a passing plane, or turn it far enough to look over my shoulder; to see and talk with and touch so very many people who formed the foundations of my life; to experience romantic love. Things which were simply an integral part of my life...and to the majority of people younger than, say, sixty or sixty-five.
If you're rolling your eyes and giving a Weltschmerz sigh about now, muttering “here we go again,” you have some justification in doing so: I do feel sorry for myself at times. But my reason for bringing the subject up so often is, truly, not the self-pity factor, or to focus on what I don't have and can't do, but on what you do have and can do without a single conscious thought. And my point is that you should give it a conscious thought, and often.
We of course cannot stop to contemplate or analyze our every thought or action—if we did, there would be no time to live our lives. But we can pause every now and again to be aware, and most importantly, to give thanks for, everything and everyone we cherish right now, for either they will not always be with us or we will not always be with them. Never pass up an opportunity to let the important people in your life know what you feel about them.
There are an infinite number of ways to show how we feel without gushing. The smallest gestures can sometimes be the most meaningful. Such simple thing as meaning it when you ask “How are you,” and really listening to the response can not only strengthen your bond to them, but bring them pleasure. Simple kindness can be priceless to the recipient, yet it costs the giver nothing.
Growing older, for a great many people, involves—willingly or unwillingly, wittingly or unwittingly—an inevitable withdrawal from the world around them. The older one grows, the more isolated one tends to feel and in fact be. Chances are you have no real idea how important a kind word or gesture—any reassurance that they still have meaning to the world—can mean to those whose social support systems are inexorably dwindling. There may well come a time when you are in need of exactly such a word or gesture.
It is part of being human that our primary interests and concerns are centered around ourselves. Yet the danger is that far too often—as it is, I freely if sadly admit, true in my own case—our concentration on ourselves effectively dims our awareness of others. We are so concerned about our individual problems and concerns we become largely blind and deaf to those—often far more serious than our own—of others.
Edgar Allen Poe's raven eventually comes to the door of everyone who lives long enough. The problem is that when it does, we almost without exception are caught by surprise. “Why didn't I appreciate what I had when I had it? Why didn't I do what I should have done, or wanted to do?” Exactly. We should all strive to live our lives so that when the raven says “Nevermore,” at least we can take whatever small comfort in replying, “Yes, but once....”
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is now also available as an audiobook.