She sits on a bench looking at nothing. Her hair is unwashed and ragged. Her ill-fitted clothes are mismatched. She clutches her purse a little too tight and mutters to no one in particular: It’s a dead give away that she isn’t functioning at maximum capacity.
Twenty years ago I would have laughed at this woman. I would have talked about her to whomever accompanied me. Twenty years ago we didn’t have cell phones with cameras, or Instagram for instant photo sharing, but I would have been young and insensitive enough to do just that if I could have.
Twenty years ago I hadn’t yet witnessed the decline of people precious to me. I hadn’t yet held the saggy skin covered hand of a loved one or looked into their face, slackened like an empty bag. Like you should be able to take their flesh to a tailor, and with a little altering, and a lot of pressing, it could once again fit the younger able-bodied loved one you remember.
I would have scoffed at the incoherent mutterings of this woman. I had a twenty-year-old brain that would always be sharp and functioning at full capacity.
Of course, at twenty, I hadn’t yet witnessed the mental decline of a brilliant mind. I couldn’t fathom the gifted mind of an engineering professor slipping away into confusion and fear. I didn’t know what it looked like when the very mind that so loved you and taught you many of life’s important lessons starts to lose those very lessons, returning to a childlike state of dependency and need.
I didn’t understand that brilliant minds will start to misfire and wander away from current consciousness. I didn’t want to believe that strong, able bodies will wither and begin the deterioration process long before death.
Twenty years ago I would have looked at this woman, then looked away in disgust.
Today I just looked at this woman. I really looked at her. I was looking at myself. I was looking at my best friend. I was looking at my favorite teacher. I was looking at you.
She could have been a mother, teacher, surgeon, mentor, and friend. I wanted to look past what was clearly no longer working and see into who this woman had been. I longed to hear her story. I wish I hadn’t been too late to know and love her in her prime. I just hope she recognized her prime. I hope she embraced the vibrancy of youth when she had it.
How long before my body and mind are no longer useful and functional?
“Live In the present.”
“Live every day like it’s your last.”
“Make the best of today.”
I get it now. I didn’t get it twenty years ago. Twenty years ago there were an endless number of ‘todays.’ Too many to count each one as precious.
I get it now. I’ve seen lives end too soon. I’ve seen lives carry on too long. I’ve seen lives lived in such agony that they blow out their own flame.
Today I finally understand the importance of today. I am embracing. I am rejoicing. I am vibrant and in my prime.