By Lindsey Townsend
Despite the fact that all my best body parts have apparently decided to head south for a permanent vacation and that the lines around my eyes are making me seriously reconsider my opinion on plastic surgery, I still believe in magic. Remember Tabitha, the little girl from Bewitched? I used to spend whole afternoons wrinkling my nose, believing that if I could just perfect the right technique I would soon be poofing myself wherever I wished to go. If I could imagine it, I believed it was possible. You might say I have a little problem separating fantasy from reality.
But the good thing about having a overactive imagination is that Tinkerbell visits frequently, sprinkling me with fairy dust as I sleep. And I suspect she must have snuck into the house and struck again last night. Because looking around the world today, it was as if I was seeing things for the first time.
I found myself marveling at all the magical things we take for granted in our 21-century brave new world. Airplanes that fly. Seeds that turn into flowers. The fact that my four-year-old speaks English, and that if he were Japanese, he would speak Japanese right now. Computers that let me chat with a friend in Australia as easily as the neighbor next door, as well as see a picture of her two-year-old daughter.
When did we lose the sense of wonder that allows us to appreciate these everyday miracles? And how often do we as moms lose sight of the fact that our greatest miracles live in our houses…spreading peanut butter on the walls, spilling milk on our tables, and leaving fingerprints on our mirrors?
I was at an awards banquet the other night and ran into someone I knew from my former 9-5 life. I asked idly about a mutual acquaintance of ours, a writer about my age. Martha gave me a strange look. “Suzanne passed away two months ago,” she said. “Didn’t you hear? She contracted some kind of virus, and it took her pretty quickly.”
I was floored. Although Suzanne wasn’t a close friend of mine, we were always friendly when we saw each other, and I enjoyed talking with her. Now that I’ve heard the news, her shadow has decided to follow me around. Here she was, a woman just like me…caught up worrying about her latest project, thinking about wallpapering the kitchen, calling the phone company to try to straighten out a bill, planning where to go for the Fourth of July, baking cookies, having an argument with her husband. And then one day, despite the fact that her in-box was still overflowing and the laundry wasn’t done, she was gone.
She was a fellow night owl who often worked into the wee hours, as I do. We both preferred to work at night, when everyone else has gone to bed and all the good ideas are just lingering in the air, ripe for the picking. Once I sent her an e-mail at 1:00 a.m. and was shocked when her “Hi out there” came back to me instantly. It felt like trekking through the Sahara desert, a thousand miles from civilization, and running into an old friend from grade school at the next oasis. I rather liked the idea that somewhere out there in the black night someone was toiling away, alone with her thoughts, just as I was.
Since I have heard about her death, I have become aware of every extra day I have been given that she has not. I find myself sitting in traffic no longer cursing the time I’m wasting, but looking at the shifting clouds in the sky. I find myself stopping on the obituary page, looking for a man or woman younger than me who has died. I always find one.
One of the surprising benefits of getting older is that you begin to appreciate more of what you have even as you realize that you’ll never have all you want. It’s a sure sign of age--when gratitude for the little things leaves you close to tears.
We always know at some intellectual level that we’re going to die, but we don’t really believe it, do we? We’re too busy. Now’s not a good time. In Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom, Morrie says that in order to be prepared to die, we should do what the Buddhists do. “Every day, have a little bird on your shoulder that asks, ‘Is today the day? Am I ready? Am I doing all I need to do? Am I being the person I want to be?”
So now I’m thinking about that little bird. And I’m paying attention to those little joys that are tucked into the pockets of the ragged patchwork quilt of my life. Four-year-olds who say “I wuv you too.” A husband who comes home every night and places family first. Pens that don’t leak. Books that make me cry. Friends who make me laugh. No-lick stamps. A steaming cup of tea. Cold pillows. People who know never to call me at 9:00 on Thursday during ER. The sight of a solitary duck on a pond. Plain M & Ms. A sister who understands my family’s particular insanity. Any houseplant I buy that survives more than three weeks.
These days, those simple miracles have become more important than any high-ticket item at Nordstrom’s.