I was impatiently stopped at a traffic light. The light finally turned yellow and I instantly assumed the posture of an adrenalin-charged NASCAR racer, poised and anxious to accelerate, when an elderly woman stepped off of the curb and began her slow and deliberate step-by-step pilgrimage across the street. The light turned green and she had not yet even reached my car.
I drew a deep, agitated breath while impulsively strumming my fingers on the steering wheel. I had places to go and people to see.
But, as she struggled to make her way across the street, lifting and lowering her metal walker before each halting step, something clutched at my heart. She was old; really old. Her hair was thin and white with isolated, wispy strands falling over her eyes and down her neck. Her face was ashen and deeply creased and her bony, thickly blue-veined hands trembled under her own weight as she leaned heavily on her walker.
Her body was shrunken and bowed over as she shuffled past the front of my car, delaying my start by, perhaps, a full fifteen seconds.
I drove away with her image burned in my mind, and unable to erase it. That woman had once been somebody's little girl, joyfully frolicking in fields of lavender. She had danced to the Charleston and to Swing, and was courted by handsome young men in Model T Fords and Buick Roadmasters. She'd been a young wife filled with hope, and a mother who rocked and nursed her babies during black-outs while listening intently to Franklin D. Roosevelt's Fireside Chats. She'd cooked and scrubbed without any of today's modern kitchen conveniences, during a time when there were no televisions or computers to occupy her children long enough to give her moments of quiet serenity.
She'd lived through wars, survived the depression, and experienced the loss of many loved ones. How could she have known what indignities lay in store for her -- that one day each of her crippling, calculated steps would cause traffic to be delayed, while hurried, mindless bodies honked impatiently en-route to some allegedly important business meeting, fun-filled luncheon or forbidden rendezvous?
Would she have conducted her life any differently had she thoroughly understood the inevitable cruelty of her future? Could she have averted this travesty of fairness if she'd done things differently? If she'd laughed more? Loved more? Prayed more?
I looked deep into my soul and blinked rapidly to hold back tears. Was I sad for this pitiful stranger or was I actually sad for myself? I couldn't untangle my feelings. That woman could easily be me one day, and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it.
I drove mindlessly, unable to lift the thick fog from my heart, when suddenly I had a change of perspective. Perhaps I was reflecting and interjecting my own fears. This old woman may not have been unhappy at all. Beneath her leathery camouflage may well have been the joyful heart and buoyant soul of a thoroughly fulfilled woman; a woman who celebrated life to the max, who embraced each day, reveled in every sunset, and loved from the depths of her being. Such a woman would be content in her golden years, confident and fully satisfied that she had thoroughly consumed the contents of her cherished gift of life.
I found this thought comforting. There would be no escaping the inevitable final act, but I drew tremendous solace from the knowledge that I live an incredibly rich and full life, surround myself with beloved family and friends, am always cognizant of the wonders each day brings, and have loved with great depth and passion.
Should the day come when I am forced to stop traffic as I cross the road with my walker, please do not feel sorry for me. My bones will be tired, my skin will no longer be taut and my body may be contorted, but my heart will be smiling broadly, for I will be deeply ensconced in the memories of my astounding life; a life void of regrets for what I should have done.
I will have done it all.