When Sam was young it was peanut butter. We discovered when he was about two years old that he had an allergy to peanuts, so we never had any in the house. Once when I left to visit a friend in Florida, I stopped at the store and bought a jar of peanut butter and ate it the whole way to the airport. I ate peanut butter clandestinely every chance I got.
The other day I went to the Dorset Union Store and bought an egg sandwich on a croissant and a brownie for breakfast. Sounds good, right? Except that I discovered last fall that my body can't tolerate gluten anymore, so I knew that eating all that crap would make me sick.
And yet I did it, in my car, alone, as if I needed to hide it from someone. The only person that matters in this equation is me. No one else cares about my intestinal distress; I'm the only one who suffers when I eat something with wheat flour in it. It makes no difference where or when I eat the stuff I'm not supposed to eat, and yet ... and yet.
The human body is a funny thing. We start out so tiny and shriveled up, so soft and smooth. Some of us end up tiny and shriveled up all over again, but along the way most of us experience the natural course of events called aging. Some of it creeps up slowly on us and some hits like a little freight train — one day you wake up and poof! you're allergic to gluten or oysters or horses. Things are constantly changing and shifting. At a certain age, I think most of us feel like we're caught inside a body that is doing things we'd rather it not do, wondering what the hell is going on and why we're not still in college drinking lots of beer every weekend.
I remember when Sam was a baby, meeting a man who was also new to parenthood. He told me this: "You're either going with the flow or you're swimming upstream."
It turned out that what he said was true not only of parenting, but of pretty much every other aspect of life .
I remember when I moved to southern California when I was in my early 20s. I had taken a teaching job in Del Mar and was curious to see if the beach culture was for me. One of the first things that struck me about life there was that many people seemed to be in search of perpetual youth. With suntans and toned bodies and convertibles, plastic surgery and fake hair. People seemed to be fighting the passage of time. And it obviously wasn't working very well because I noticed it, I was aware of the whiff of disingenuousness floating through the air.
I just don't think it's possible. We can't fool ourselves or anyone else into believing that Father Time isn't working his charm. Who are some of the most elegant people you have ever met? The women who wear gray hair without aplology; the men know when it's time to hang up the leather jacket. The people who bear wisdom in their eyes and in their hands. The ones who accept, indeed honor, the gifts that age brings.
I look at my daughter and her friends and their perfection is stunning to me. Theirs is the time of ripeness and promise. Which is not necessarily to say that mine is past, but it's a different kind of promise. They hold the juices of youth; I have the wine of age.
Several years ago my friend, Lauren, and I were walking down the street in Rutland and we ran into a woman Lauren knew. The woman had recently fallen in love and it was coming out of all of her pores; it was shooting our of her eyes and flowing from the tips of her fingers. "You know that feeling," she asked us, "when it feels like your chest isn't big enough to hold your heart?"
It was the absolute most perfect description of new love I had ever heard. I think when we get older something similar happens with our soul. It expands as we go through life, growing each year to accommodate the river of pain and joy that flows through us, until eventually we no longer need the body that has so kindly carried us through our days. I believe this, that the soul grows as the need for the body shrinks. I have seen it and felt it in the company of those in hospice care. There have been times when it felt as if a person's soul was filling the entire room, while their human form was shrinking down to nothing.
It's a bit of magic, all that.
In the meantime, peanut allergies and idiotic covert gluten consumption and weathered hands and hearts and the nymphs of youth dancing all around us. While I still have two feet to carry me forward and two hands to hold the needs of the world, I sing a prayer of gratitude:
Blessed Light of This World
For this body I am grateful.
Thank you for the breath that holds
so much hope.
For the beating heart, smelling nose,
hair that grazes my neck.
Thank you for this shot at humanness.
I hope I am doing this justice.
I recognize it is a gift of pure gold,
to be in this river of life.