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An Inspiring Presence

One of the rewards of aging is wisdom. When we look closer, we can also find how wisdom inspires contentment and wonder.

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The Universe is full of surprises. As I walk down the road of life, I discover the daily wonder hidden in the spirits of those who have lived long eventful lives.  I marvel at all of the lessons they have learned and shared.  Just last week, I saw an interview with Cicely Tyson, at 96, recounting the important chapters of her life with clarity and humility. When asked about what she wanted others to remember about her, she said it was that she did her best.  Just days later, she passed away. Her autobiography and that of other iconic figures like Tina Turner reveal a resolute appreciation for the journey. Tina Turner talks about the power of forgiveness and how it has gotten her to the high ground in her life; overcoming the challenges of abuse, health conditions; and years of career ups and downs. Looking back and savoring every precious moment of life is one of the sacred reminders that COVID 19 seems to be delivering with every one of the mounting losses that we have experienced since the onset of the pandemic. Celebrities have broad audiences for their discoveries that highlight a growing awareness of what really matters in life, but it should also be noted  that we may have people in our lives who are also mirroring the same insights and marvelous wisdom.

One such person in my life was my ninety-nine year old father-in-law who passed away just before Thanksgiving 2020, He savored dark chocolate and red wine like a child with a lollipop. He would let each mouthful of chocolate slowly melt in his mouth as he held the remaining bit in front of his face with the stillness of a reverent tribute. He would likewise enjoy an occasional glass of wine which he regarded as a special treat.  Watching him gave me a longing for that level of worldly pleasure and delight. I have learned that this is acquired as part of the aging process for those who truly understand the blessings held in the present moment.

A beloved neighbor, also about 99 years of age who, up until March of 2020, drove his car to the store, post office and his place of worship with regularity. We would see each other in the parking lot as he departed or returned and he would share some of his vivid recollections of meaningful moments of his life such as the time a young man named Cassius Clay, after an arduous trip, wandered into the group of young boxers he was training. He talked about his father who was a tailor in Harlem and he shared all the illustrious patrons of his father’s fine work. He also described his excitement over making deliveries of garments for his father to the female performers at the Cotton Club as a young man. My dear friend would always have a joke or a quote for me and our admiration for each other was always acknowledged. When the pandemic started, his doctor advised him to stay inside and he did. After some months, it became clear that he would not be driving any more. On recent trips with my husband to drop off provisions to seniors, I got to see him and in his usual fashion, when asked: “How are you doing?” he replied, “Just taking it one day and a time.” His peace and contentment was in every word. He didn’t need more and was content with what he had. We went over the usual standards that he upholds for his daily life which include the fact that he doesn’t turn on the television until after 7pm to avoid passive viewing and instead of keeping photos in albums, he says that he displays them on the walls to see them all the time. During a recent visit, he announced that he knew the day of the week and recited it with accuracy without any prompting; something that many have lost track of, and he shared a photocopy of a humorous cartoon that appeared in a popular magazine back in 1947. Each conversation and visit is a warm exchange that allows me to be a witness to his life as he is to mine.

All of these folks inspire me to savor life and enjoy every moment. I am awestruck by the qualities of grace and generosity that allow these individuals to model what can be learned from a long life. It is my goal and greatest hope that my journey will likewise inspire others. Of all the things for me to relish, I embrace the stories, triumphs, trials and glorious insights of my fellow human beings as I stay focused on the unfolding moment and the road ahead.

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