It’s inevitable, I think, that many of us will ponder our lives and our place in the world as the current year draws to a close. And we may well wonder what the impending new year will hold for us. In the words of an old song—
…what lies ahead?/Will we have rainbows day after day?
I believe it’s a quirk of our human nature that we often fail to appreciate what we have until we no longer have it. Many are the things that become dear to us when their very existence is threatened—things that might have received but passing notice before the threat arose.
This tendency, doubtless familiar to most of us, seems to begin early in our lives. I’ve observed young children on numerous occasions while they were playing with their toys. Inevitably, when someone picks up a different toy, the children immediately focus on that one as the only thing that will satisfy their needs. The moment they can’t have it, so it appears, is the same moment they realize what a treasure it is.
This habit stays with us as we grow older. In his classic story, Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain provides a wonderful example of what can happen when people seem to be losing something, even if they never actually possessed it.
Remember the tale? Young Tom tricks his friends into whitewashing Aunt Polly’s fence, in order to avoid the chore himself. By presenting it to them as an opportunity available to only a select few, and one that would not last long, he duped them into a hankering for something they would normally have avoided—afraid of losing the chance to take advantage.
The quirk remains into our adult years, as well. You’ll recognize it when, after walking around all day in a pair of new shoes, you remember how comfortable the old ones were, the ones you didn’t want anymore. And you wish you hadn’t thrown them away.
Or you’ll know it when your grandkids come for a long-overdue visit, one you’ve been looking forward to. And then, only a few hours after your wish is realized, you begin to pine for the peace and quiet of your everyday life. You can’t wait ‘til it’s time for them to leave. You’re exhausted!
You’ll experience the same feeling of loss if a power blackout strikes, and you find yourself walking from room to room, absent-mindedly flicking light switches in vain. All that electricity you took for granted, gone!
There are so many things we have, not just material possessions, that we passively accept as the norm. Not through arrogance or selfishness, necessarily, but because they seem always to be with us. Being with us, they become accepted; having accepted, we become indifferent.
Perhaps the greatest of these unheralded treasures, as we grow older, is good health. Most of us grew up without serious medical problems, the normal childhood ailments notwithstanding. We accept good health as our due—to the extent that, when we do come down with something, we feel resentful and put-upon.
“I never get sick,” we complain to anyone who will listen. “How can this be happening to me?”
Some time ago, I visited our family physician because of a persistent virus that had hold of me. While I was sitting in the waiting room, her receptionist mentioned that she’d had a devil of a time locating my file.
“I finally found it in the dead file,” she said.
“The dead file!” I exclaimed. “Hey, I’m not that old!”
She laughingly explained that the dead file was for patients who hadn’t had a routine physical exam during the past five years.
Five years! I was stunned to realize I hadn’t had a checkup in all that time. I suppose, because I was feeling just fine, I’d assumed it would always be so. After all, good health is only what I deserve, right? That’s how it is.
Until it isn’t.
Nowadays, as I approach the three-quarter-century mark more quickly than I would like, the advent of a brand-new year doesn’t hold the same promise for me that once it did. I no longer wish for, or expect, endless rainbows.
I would be happy, I have discovered, to hang on to what I have.
My focus has turned to acknowledging my blessings, appreciating them more fully, and not taking them for granted. And chief among those, I am finding, is continued good health.
It behooves me, I believe, to accept the responsibility to make that happen. While looking to whatever future awaits me, for however long, I must strive not to abuse the good health I currently enjoy. There are elements of our North American lifestyle that are proven killers—killers even of people, such as I, who have always taken their well-being for granted.
Of course, it’s difficult to imagine that I might fall victim, for, as Edward Young wrote almost three hundred years ago—
All men think all men mortal but themselves.
But nearly four hundred years ago, Robert Herrick, wrote—
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,/Old time is still a-flying,/
And this same flower that smiles today/Tomorrow will be dying.
That tomorrow is but a day away. So, today is all the time we have to protect what is, indeed, a most prized possession. We owe it to ourselves to guard and nurture our good health.
While we may.