Janet Sheridan: Moments of clarity
My first moment of open-eyed appreciation began as I pushed the family bicycle in a circle on the packed earth that served as a driveway for our Lake Shore home. Steering with one arm, I circled my toddler brother Blaine with the other, anchoring him to the bicycle’s seat. He laughed and waved his chubby arms, a grin lighting his face and a breeze tousling the blonde curls Dad considered too long.
Then the moment intensified. I became aware of the uncluttered blue sky brightened by spring’s easy sun, the green leaves of our guardian cottonwoods waving us on, and the scent of lilacs swirling with the breeze. As I basked in my surroundings, a flood of love for my brother and a keen awareness of the perfect moment through which we moved filled me with an overwhelming appreciation of life.
I’ve experienced other brief periods of heightened perception and intense happiness since Blaine and the bicycle, but rarely, and never on the occasions when I expected them: getting my driver’s license, graduating from college, marrying, discovering Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.
Rather, moments of grace and gratitude came to me like unexpected gifts during quiet moments: holding two grandsons in the generous shade of an elm tree as we laughed at the enchantment of Dr. Seuss, walking down the ramp of a Mexican ferry into a village smelling of woodsmoke, and riding in a car with my friends through a star-filled night that spoke to me of my future.
As I’ve aged, however, these acute moments of insightfulness and blessing surprise me more frequently; as though my mind chooses to focus on all that I have even as my body makes random complaints that soon turn to nonstop whining.
My knees, formerly stalwart companions, resist when I ask them to kneel while I yank grass from a petunia bed or crawl around on the floor looking for a dropped pill. For 65 years, I didn’t know my hamstrings existed. Evidently, my ignorance of their role in my well-being hurt their feelings, so they retaliated by protesting whenever I sit too long, denying me the pleasure of flopping into a chair after physical exertions such as brushing my teeth, finding my glasses, or creating a list of jobs to rescue Joel from boredom. My little toe — broken when young and left to heal on its own so I wouldn’t have to admit I kicked a doorframe instead of a brother — now nags me when I step out in tight shoes. Even the whites of my eyes have rebelled by occasionally flaring into a startling red that makes babies cry, dogs howl and polite folks stare.
Yet, in spite of these ailments, I experience frequent moments of thankful clarity. Yesterday, I took my grumpy knees, my rebellious hamstrings, my irksome toe, and my fearsome eyes out for an early morning walk. I circled East Elementary — my strides long and fast, breath sure and strong, heart pumping steadily. When I turned toward home, I looked out over the Yampa Valley and saw the trees edging the river that flows through it, the mountains that grace it, the generous sky that arches above it, and the streets, businesses and houses that serve those who inhabit it, many of them friends. I stopped walking, gazed at the view, and surprised myself by thinking, “I love my body, my life, and this valley.”
When younger, such an over-the-top thought would have embarrassed me, and I wouldn’t have shared it; but now, rather than judging it, I let myself fill with its truth. Aging has taught me to look at my life and my world with increased frequency, attention, affection, and appreciation. Even with bloodshot eyes.