Finding a Lot To Be Grateful For, Against the Odds

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On my 60th birthday, I ran into Jack Neely crossing Market Square in one of his flawless white shirts and khaki trousers, looking like a character out of The Great Gatsby.

“Jack,” I wailed. “I just turned 60 today.”

He looked me dead in the eye. “You’re lucky,” he said. “A lot of us didn’t make it.” It gave me a new perspective.

This year, on Nov. 12, I turned 62, and though young people defer to me on buses and planes and call me “ma’am” (which irritates me no end) as though I am a doddering old lady, I have never felt younger, fresher, or more interested in everything and everyone around me.

It was when I was in my late 20s that I felt old and spent—5 feet 6 inches, weighing a mere 87 pounds, hovering between life and death as I sucked on a freebase pipe, relentlessly and desperately, the way only another drug addict can fathom. That was over 40 years ago, and except for an occasional relapse, I am pretty much drug-free. That’s a lot to be grateful for, and Jack Neely’s words come back to me often, because I am so fortunate to be here. I still drink. Sometimes I drink too much and make an awful fool of myself, but compared to what I used to be, I’m a walking miracle.

As I watch my dog, Mallory, today, lying on her back, almost invisible in the yellow leaves, kicking her legs with joy, I wonder why I can’t be more like her. Why think about the past with all its mistakes, or the future with its possibility of more mistakes? Why not just accept ourselves in the moment and experience what we are experiencing now?

I am learning from Mallory to be better at that. When I catch myself thinking, “Oh, I shouldn’t have said, done, or thought that,” I tell myself to just make amends as best I can and move on. When I catch myself being too prideful for something good I’ve done, said, or thought, I move through that moment, too, because if you’re dwelling on the past moment, then you’re bound to be missing this one. Same thing with worrying about the future—if you are anxious about what might or might not happen tomorrow, then you are still veering away from the present moment’s joy.

So today as I sit with my husband, Karl, in the downtown dog park, watching Mallory and all the dogs prance, and chase, and gnaw playfully on one another’s ears, I put my head up to the sun and let my thoughts chase one another as they will, without my efforts to control, banish, or create what I think are acceptable thoughts. Where do thoughts come from anyway? I don’t know, and I really don’t care. I’m just grateful to have my husband by my side, my dog racing down the dog park. I’m also grateful to be a contributor to this fine newspaper, and to all the wonderful people who have said such nice things about my writing.

I give Jack Neely a fair amount of credit for giving me perspective on aging. Because, let’s face it, it is a gift of grace to have made it this far, and I expect to make it as long as I can. I never cease to wonder at all the beauty there is in the world, on Market Square, even in my apartment, with all its chaos. And I say, as my husband said when he came here from Budapest and these were the only words he knew, “Thank you. Thank you.”

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