Of the many gifts of aging, certainly the one we’d most like to share with younger folks, is the realization that our time here on the earth is limited but maybe not limiting. One reaches a certain age and recognizes to see that there are not so many of you left anymore. Your high school classmates or their husbands have passed away. Your boss just died; another co-worker is in assisted living. Not only are your peers dying; they are fading away. Their memories are receding and their abilities are, in some respects anyway, weakening. Of course, there are those us who have been blessed enough to continue with our lives, our loves, our passions, our challenges for some more years. But this sense of decades ahead, not unlimited time, is sobering and focusing. It is in many ways a blessing.
I am late in life runner. I started running at age 68 last year and ran a 5K in October on a tropical day with 100% humidity, leaving me soaked to the skin and victorious. Huh? After some weak efforts at running during the winter on the treadmill, I thought I’d try a beach run this first week of July, at nearly high tide, early in the morning. I did this because a younger friend reminded me about the romance of running. She said, “It’s wonderful, isn’t it. It is only thing that keeps me sane.” I thought, “Well, my own mental health could use some attention, maybe I should try a run tomorrow.”
So, I headed out barefoot, my iPod on shuffle, onto to Narragansett Beach, running north at about 11 mph. The beach sand was nicely packed in some spots and littered with shells and rocks and in other places. And, most difficult of all, seaweed washed up into the shore, making it slippery with unsure footing. I did my best to run those lengths like a Marine in training. So, with a mild breeze this nearly perfect morning, I ran down the beach to Narrow River and back up again, as if I had been running all my life.
I ran through Crosby, Stills & Nash, Julia Fordham, Vivaldi, Bobby McFerrin, Paul Simon, and Joni Mitchell—none of it fitting running music but perfect as an accompaniment to my little world. At the end of this, at the top of the beach, at the curve of the sea wall, I stopped to take a breath and found myself dissolving into tears. Simply, this was recognition that the grace of this run through warmed ocean water, with each step a mark of strength and rhythmic energy, was an unearned blessing. Like the gift of last October’s run after pneumonia and this one after a serious strep infection. How much longer can I rely on these blessings? Am I taking away the good karma that should be flowing to the more deserving? Shouldn’t there be sacrifice and effort before such an offering to me? Do those tears count as penance or supplication or just awareness of the randomness of surprise beauty? If this event stands alone and never happens again, it will, as Jewish ritual would pronounce, be enough. Dayenu.