Chop Chop

By Katina Pontikes
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Bernard Berenson
Bernard Berenson

 

True wisdom comes to people not at some stage of life, but in tiny little lightning bolts throughout life. Sometimes a teenager will say something that a much older person hadn’t thought of. Or a toddler will blurt out the most marvelously brilliant observation, missed by all adults present. Then there are the “came from experience” types of wisdom that older people often impart, and one best listen, unless they want to learn from a hard knock lesson some very important truth.

I have recently hit an age milestone. I suddenly realized I have limited time left to do anything I need to get done or want to do. This has been underscored by illnesses and deaths of friends. Not only is my clock ticking, but my body may drastically limit my choices of how I am going to spend these remaining moments.

I can no longer jog (knees), so walking has become a huge joy. I need multiple pairs of glasses to read or drive. I’ve decided nocturnal driving is a hassle and I gave up my car. My husband and I share one car and Uber a lot. We both go to doctors a lot more frequently than in the past. Life has changed in ways I never predicted.

Each day I wake to be sure the main parts are all working, and I contemplate what I can accomplish. At night, I want to celebrate that I’m still here, still breathing and taking in the simple pleasures life has to offer. So I carefully select who will join me in something as routine as having a glass of wine or eating dinner.

Accompanying these life assessments, I am guided by two terms created by the art historian Bernard Berenson. People are either “life-enhancing” or “life-diminishing.” I have taken this knowledge to a new level. People may be life enhancing at one point in life, and then, for whatever reasons, they become life-diminishing, or give more trouble than the pleasure they have offered in the past. Or, perhaps, they have changed.

I have learned that some people think that having a history gives them some sort of seniority advantage, as if they are in a “life union.” They think that having a shared history makes them immune from criticism, that they can get away with unacceptable behaviors. “But I’ve known you for twenty years! How can this one issue cause us to no longer socialize?!” Friends divorce, too.

Many times, distance turns out to be a good thing. In retrospect, one sees small slights or bad behaviors that were tolerated way too long, in respect for good deeds done in the past. But then the scale tips, or the act is so egregious that the season of friendship ends, and one moves on, happily and without regret. The clock ticks louder.

My circle of friends has diminished, and I’m fine with this. There are no more nights when my husband and I say “Boy, I wish we hadn’t committed to this dinner out with so-and-so, but we will get through it.” We don’t make those plans any more. Our sense of social obligation has faded and been replaced by the desire to see faces of people who make us laugh, withhold judgment, tolerate our quirks. We find that for anyone we no longer have in our circle, someone new and stimulating has joined. And it seems that those new, open-minded, kind people attract people like themselves, so that a feeling of wonderful camaraderie thrives.

We also have learned that quiet nights to just share each other’s companionship are treasured. How exciting! In bed at 9:30, reading good magazines and enjoying a serene environment void of stimulation.

How distant this is from my youth, where plans to be at the newest hot disco were deemed important. Saturday nights had to be chock full of meet-ups. I had to force myself to stay awake in case I missed whatever something might happen.

Now, all I need to do is take on the role of a television chef, chopping off the parts of life that no longer serve the ever-diminishing moments remaining.

 

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