That’s the most salient benefit I know about aging – it teaches you gratitude. Pure animal gratitude. In the steamy-trenches-of-life savoring gratitude. It teaches you to celebrate the beauty of these three words: I’m still here.
In my 20’s and 30’s, even the first half of my 40’s, I talked a good talk about being present and savoring life, but there is nothing like loss to teach you true. What I wouldn’t give to hug my dad one more time, to hug Eric, my brilliant friend-brother lost to addiction, to sit around the Sunday dinner table with all those aunts and uncles and cousins – all gone but one. What I wouldn’t give to feel my body paddling up a north-flowing river, pain free and so very, very able. So many pockets of life passed on. Such is the current that carries us.
And such is the gratitude – you are here, being carried. Breathing. Hugging your beloveds.
I’ve come to love aging because it has taught me such honest gratitude. In the contrast between what is and what won’t be, I learn with a gasp: this, this. Now, now! I try to tell Lillian this truth, but I know it’s mostly wasted. Not because she doesn’t listen. But because what can never be touched again teaches you to touch now.
I lie next to Bob in bed and run my hand down his chest, feeling for that notch on his left rib, the small gap that makes him flinch when I press in on it. He pulls away, thinking I do it to bug him. I do it to remember. Remember this, I think, remember this precious body, this body I love. Memorize it. I hug Lilly the same way, gasping inwardly at her Lilly-ness, the fruity scent of her shampoo, my gratitude for her presence. Aidan towers over me and I still see him as I did the first time I met him. We were standing by my car, a hank of his lovely hair hanging in his face. Without thinking, I reached out and tucked it behind his ear.
This gratitude makes me drunk with life – gritty and pain-striped, blessed. It buoys me through all the repetitive conversations with mom, through rehabbing my back yet again, through the seven-times-a-day search for the reading glasses and my waist:
This, this. Now, now!