Opinion Age makes the miracles easier to see

(Video: Andrea Levy for The Washington Post)
6 min

Every so often, even in heartbreaking times, the soul hears something so true out of the corner of its ear that it perks up, looking around like a meerkat for the source. Mine did this when, decades ago, I read a quote of Albert Einstein’s: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as if nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

There are the obvious miracles all around us — love, nature, music, art. We drunks who somehow got sober call this the central miracle of our lives. Some of you have children you were told you couldn’t have. Some of you were sent home to die, years ago. And have you ever seen a grain of sand under a high-powered microscope? It looks like a jewelry store.

But what do we do with the seemingly unmiraculous? For instance, former president Donald Trump is a bit of a stretch for me. How do we see the miracle in the madness of the months since Jan. 6, 2021? Well, we saw that democracy held. It might have gone either way. We here in the colonies rejoiced, in our quiet and fretful ways.

My spirits are regularly flattened by the hardships of the world, of our country and of the people I love, so I find myself turning to the saints: Molly Ivins, for example. Decades ago, she said, “Freedom fighters don’t always win, but they are always right.” When I heard her say this at a benefit for the ACLU, my soul leaped up off its chair.

I spend a lot of time looking out the window. Age has given me this time and intention. I didn’t have so much of either when I was younger. My brain went much faster. There was so much to do, so much need and striving, and I had my trusty clipboard. Now I study the coral-colored abutilon buds right outside our window, little cups that hold the rainwater. Hummingbirds swing by all day to drink, and so it is a treat both for the eyes and for the spirit, for the bird and for the flower.

One of the blessings of age is that most of us get along with ourselves better than when we were young. It is stunning to accept yourself: I am always going to have a womanly butt and now I appreciate it: It’s a nice seat cushion. When my son was young, I hired a teenage girl to help around the house and one day she was folding laundry. She held up a pair of the nice roomy underwear I prefer and said, with wonder, “Do they even make bigger underwear?” That was 25 years and 10 pounds ago — and yes, honey, they do. I’ll show you where to buy them someday.

It’s a miracle that Earth exists at all, let alone is populated by humans who came up with antibiotics and Oreos, let alone Scandinavian detective shows. I love this joint a lot of the time. Even our modest local mountain looks majestic to me. Just today I saw beautiful slants of ground near the base that appeared lighter than the main portion, below the fog. They looked as if an artist chiseled them out of the rock, like doors. They said, “Come on over. We will let you in.” That is how I got sober in 1986: People said, “Come on over. We will let you in.” Today the moist sky looked like the inside of an abalone shell.

That we are no one else but our very own selves is a miracle. About one hundred million sperm were released each time your parents made love, and one dogged little guy made you into exactly you, the exact being who woke up again today. Our eyes open, our ears open and, if they don’t work that well, we have devices to help them hear better. Our hearts are beating. Our lungs are bellowing in and out, our diaphragms rising. The muscles release and contract and get us up again. Sometimes we need others to help us. Both are amazing, the strength to rise or the loving help.

One of the hardest aspects of getting old is that time races by like a slot car. I guess everything speeds up when it’s going downhill but still, it’s unnerving. On my grandson’s ninth birthday, I said jovially, “I thought you were six or something.” He said, “I live here! How can you think I’m six?” Then he rolled his eyes and patted me gently. Poor darling Nana.

Age has helped most of us care less about our outsides. Of course, I wish we had known about sunscreen in the ’60s out here underneath the California sun. My inside person is of no particular age and finds the person in the mirror confusing, a computerized version of what young adorable me will look like as an older person.

So twice a year I go to Sephora and announce that I’d like to buy a miracle, and wonderfully, they always have the exact right thing. I use it for a month, and then I put it in the bottom drawer with the other miracles.

The miracle brain pills are in a different drawer, with the kerchiefs. Friends swear they work, but nope, a month later my mind is still perforated like a pie crust poked with a fork and memory slowly leaks out. So into the drawer they go while I walk around the house trying to remember what I was trying to remember.

I like to think that they have organized a nice book club for the kerchiefs and the other bottles of brain pills.

I can still walk the flatter trails of our mountain, where the streams have begun to fill with rainwater, though not enough to actually flow yet. The peace of nature wears down the fear and hatred that arise in me on bad days, until I remember at some point that all we can do is the next right thing. I often remind myself of something the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said that helps me focus: “Don’t let them get you to hate them.” When they do, I lose me, I lose my center and my goodness, which will be needed for the hard work ahead of being older and saving democracy. There’s an incredible reflective herringbone design in the stream of rock and shadow and rock and shadow. I breathe in the cool air. My soul settles.