Monday, January 17, 2011

Making the Most of Each Day

A man named Stuart Bridges ( died recently in Phoenix. A formerly active, successful man, he spent the last few years of his life bedridden with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Laurie Roberts, an Arizona Republic newspaper columnist,  followed him through the course of the disease -- from his initial diagnosis when he felt all the joy in his life was in the past to weeks before his December 13 death when he told Ms. Roberts that he still felt joy in life. Perhaps it was the smile of a family member or friend or reading kind words sent from a friend or stranger or feeling a tender touch, hearing the sound of rain or seeing the sunlight of a new day. As his world became smaller and more confined, Stuart Bridges rejoiced in the small blessings of his life.

In our more expansive, healthy lives what are the blessings we can count every day? Everything around us, everyone we meet, every experience we have can be a blessing.

What are yours today?

I feel blessed for a sunny and warm Arizona day. For the kindness of neighbors and our acceptance of each other, eccentricities, pains and quirks included. I feel blessed with the unconditional love of three cats whose ability to soothe and delight never wavers. I feel blessed by friendships -- old and new and new/old, some friends who were dear decades ago, in what feels like another lifetime, who have appeared again recently to bring joy to my life. I feel blessed for the chance to exercise and to build a healthier body. I feel blessed by family whose love is expressed in so many different ways, each treasured.  I feel blessed with old memories and new experiences, to be older, rather than younger, with a lifetime of adventures -- and more to come.

It's so easy to overlook our blessings, to accept them as our due, and to focus instead on the negative: that persistant ache or pain, the waning physical abilities despite our best efforts, so many losses that we experience at this stage of life. The firm, sleak beauty of our youth is elusive now. Our mates age along with us and we fear, in whispered tones or private anguish, losing them. Our health, impacted by genetic and lifestyle factors, may never be perfect again. But simply being alive and living with joy and gratitude is a blessing. My physical heart may be problematic, but the heart that is my essence still sings.

As well as counting our blessings, we can give generously to others each day. Did you smile at someone today? Extend a hand, a kind word? Did you try to brighten another's day?

Living fully with love can overcome so many of life's limitations.  Isabella was a dear friend from college with whom I lost contact after she went into the Peace Corps and then enjoyed a career in journalism and diplomacy that took her around the world. We were reunited online by Marcia, another long-lost dear college friend, and enjoyed renewing our friendship through emails and dreams of a friends' reunion. I was stunned to read her husband's post-Christmas note two years ago, telling me that Isabella had died of ALS, that the disease had taken a rapid course with her so that at least she didn't suffer long. As her life, like that of Stuart Bridges, became ever more limited, Isabella still communicated only joy -- in her life adventures, in her beautiful and talented young daughter, in the unwavering love and support of her husband, in nurturing friendships.

We're all living with limits, all with the relentless march of time. But still, we can choose joy in the simple and the most important aspects of our lives to make every moment a blessing.

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