Saturday, July 13, 2013

Alive, Alive

I took my breakfast out to the yard this morning to read the rest of last Sunday's NYTimes (a treat which I make last all week), and, although I didn't really want to launch right away into the article titled The Joy of Old Age (No Kidding), when I noticed that Oliver Sacks was the author, I thought that it would be much more than just bearable. And it was.

A few particularly memorable lines:

Eighty! I can hardly believe it. I often feel that life is about to begin, only to realize it is almost over.

I am sorry to have wasted (and still waste) so much time; I am sorry to be as agonizingly shy at 80 as I was at 20....

I feel I should be trying to complete my life, whatever "completing a life" means.

At 80, one can take a long view and have a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at an earlier age.

I do not think of old age as an ever grimmer time that one must somehow endure and make the best of, but as a time of leisure and freedom, freed from the facetious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.

As I read, sipped my coffee and took bites of the most perfect peach that I've had in years (with just a sprinkle of brown sugar), I heard a hummingbird making its funny, scratchy song, quite close to me. It took me a bit of a search to find it in the multitude of hazelnut leaves and the dappled morning light, but I did, finally, and it was a baby, whose wee head gleamed red in the right angle of light. (When newborn, they are about the size of a standard eraser at the tip of a pencil!) Its feathers fanned out in a ruffle above its tiny talons, and every now and then it stretched out its wings and then folded them back down. I was close enough to see its vibrational heartbeat. Probably not much more than a mere three weeks from hatching, not more than five weeks from conception to perching on the branch.

When I chirped back, it cocked its head in my direction, acknowledging my presence.

And I thought: I'm reading about the last years of a human life, while witnessing the first days, really, in this small bird's life. Yin and yang, birth and death, the spectrum of being alive all before me in a single moment on a summer morning.

I wondered if somewhere, someone/thing, in a size ratio equally as dramatic as the hummingbird to me, was observing me, noticing my taking-in and letting-out of breath. Noticing my nearly insignificant size, in the scheme of things. Who can know this?

The bones of cats long-dead are buried in the garden, just beneath the bird's perch, and my father's blue marble gravestone lies at the base of the apple tree. Collards have gone to seed, sending out their frail yellow lacework of petals across the yard. Not far away, pumpkins and cucumber vines measurably grow by the day.

The bird flew away, I drank the last drops of coffee, and  finished the article.

What came to mind was this:
My cup is empty, and yet, is still so full.

Thank you, Oliver Sacks.
And thank you, baby bird, for granting me this sweet perspective.

For the full text of the Oliver Sacks article, click here.


  1. Thank you for this lovely perspective.

  2. A view of life that only the elderly can see, when in reality it's that urgency to grasp every opportunity that the young need to understand.

    1. Ah, yes, you've gone straight to the heart of the matter, Cro.


  3. Lovely, lovely. I read the Oliver Sacks article as well and found it very comforting, and something I intend to reread when I am in need of an attitude adjustment. Getting old is the hardest journey I've traveled yet, and I am trying to learn how to do it with grace and acceptance.

  4. How did you manage to get that photo, of something that is surely much smaller than the image here? :) I am so impressed!

    I love 'seeing' you in your summer yard, drinking coffee and reading the NY Times.

    Love, C.

    1. C.,

      Getting that photo took a lot of patience and concentration. Too bad the camera is so inferior.

      Maybe some day you can have coffee with me in my yard!


    2. Wouldn't that be lovely!

      Not to self, if an opportunity to go to Seattle shows up, go in SUMMER!

      Love, C.