THE PRIVILEGE OF HEALTH
ME: Grandpa, do you want to go lie down for a bit? (he had been falling asleep at the table after finishing breakfast this morning)
GRANDPA (AKA HERBIE): That may be a good idea.
ME: Yes. Why not.
HERBIE: Yeah. I got time.
Herbie, my grandfather is 100 and four months. This is a positive outlook at its best. Everyday he wakes up it is another day he wakes up. This must seem like a surprise to him, but I don’t know that. It has never been a surprise in my consciousness until this visit as I consider that every day he wakes up is another day I get to have him in my life. I don’t usually think in terms of the literal day to day appreciation of waking up. Sure I am grateful for each day, but because I am young and healthy, for the most part I get to assume that tomorrow will be available to me and the next day. When you are 100, I am guessing that this may not be the case.
I suggested that from now on we have a birthday cake every day to celebrate his life because seriously every day is, well, every day.
My grandfather is a bad ass I have decided. Not the kind that you may think of like my friend’s grandparents who grew up in the tough neighborhoods or were boxers or fighters, but the type of fighter that has the grit in his core. I love this trait. Grit. He is the son of a man who made his way alone to America from Russia in the late 1800s. His mother too was a Russian immigrant and because I was born to such young parents I actually knew both of them. My grandfather was drafted in WWII. He was an entrepreneur, a textile mill owner in Fall River, Mass back when Fall River made things. A fiscal example of frugality, but intense generosity, a charitable mix of practicality and reasonable behavior, my grandfather’s approach to life is summed up by his favorite five words, “It is what it is.” At my brother’s funeral he at 78 having lost his first born grandson who was only 25 to a rare form of lung cancer got up to speak at our informal gathering. “Michael was too young to die, but he did.” I will never forget those simple words filled with the essence of his belief system that life goes on despite itself.
It is interesting to sit on my perch and watch the de-birth of someone. His body curves naturally into a fetal position as his shoulders hunch a little more each time I see him. His baby fine hair easily mats and he gets messier every time he eats. He sleeps a lot and his appetite grows smaller each day. It is like watching a new baby but opposite. He needs the walker more and when his legs are causing more and more discomfort, he uses the wheelchair more often to alleviate the pain. It is backwards infancy. This is the only way I can explain what I am witnessing. I am a voyeur of sorts as I get to watch this without having to do anything other than be in his company. He has 24/7 care and my visits are nothing but love and cooking for him. This gives me the gift of a vacation as well as a visit and I feel really lucky for his conservatism with money all those years before now.
When I am visiting the weather is always an improvement from the north so outdoor running, walking and beaching is my personal threesome of love. I try to run each day to increase my distance because no matter how much I run on the treadmill in the winter cold, the pavement is completely different. The first step outside feels like I have done zero cardio for the entire winter as my heart speeds and my breath grows heavier with each stride. I wear no headphones or music, got rid of this nuisance a long while ago as I found it completely distracting. To each their own because I know there are many of my friends who can’t imagine running without sound. I enjoy the sound of my heart and my breath; it is meditative and allows for deep appreciation as I try for longer and longer distances each of the days I am blessed to be in sunny Siesta Key in the cold New England March of unpredictability. As much as I get out and exercise, I have found my thoughts interesting in the day to day decision making of going for the run. I don’t really love running, but I love the results of running and this is the draw.
On my way down here, I have all kinds of plans, run every day, train for a 5k, eat healthy, blah blah blah. This is my perpetual mantra and I strongly visualize myself at the tail end of the week completing all of my self imposed rules and regs. What strikes me is the mind fuck that happens as my brain starts its campaign on rationalizing why I don’t need to run. “I am achy from yesterday,” (boo fucking hoo). “I cut my finger cooking today,” (I know that one is a stretch, but complete transparency here). “I don’t want to miss a good parking spot at the beach,” (since the temperature gauge is reading 58 right now, I am guessing this is a non issue). “I want to get my writing in and the morning is usually the time,” (well let’s see, I woke up at 5:00am so I’m guessing there is plenty of time). “I want to cook for Herbie,” (read previous rationale). So here I sit, watching the thermometer slowly (very slowly) climb to a meager 60; the sky is clear and blue and it looks like it is about 75 out, but the air is cold. I have baked blueberry cake, prepped dinner for tonight, made my lunch for today and the weekend’s beach visits, gone for a run (2 miles thank you very much) and done some stretching and a ten minute tabata workout. And it is only 9:40am.
As I sit here writing this today, with the sound of my grandfather snoring over the baby monitor that has become the background noise of his house, I reflect on these excuses. I know that his example, combined with the loss of my brother so young as well as my own health bumps in the road, health is an innate privilege. When you have the freedom to move, the advantages are something that commands the movement. I have had the times when I have not been able to move at the pace I have wanted. Many promises pour from my soul as I make the pacts with the universe promising regular exercise when if and when I ever feel good enough to do so again. The privilege of health is my own connection with a higher power and despite the wacky brain excuses that arise, I usually find my way around them. I do this in honor of my brother, in reverence to my grandfather and even more the respect to my own health and body that I have been blessed with for these soon to be fifty three years.
Now I am ready for my beach day. So lucky and healthy and I can’t wait to do it all again tomorrow.