A Word in Edgewise

By E.B. Boatner April 24, 2008

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Two news stories printed back to back caught my eye the other day.

One was about Edna Parker of Shelbyville, Indiana, recognized by the Guinness World Records as the oldest known person, who turned 115 this past week.

The next was about an unfortunate accident in which a Chicago toddler, strapped into his stroller, was blown into Lake Michigan. The boy remained submerged for nearly 15 minutes before he finally was pulled out by Chicago Fire Department rescue workers, “unconscious but alive.” Two days later, an update related that a man “identified as the boy’s father” told reporters, “I think he will be OK. I hope so. We are praying.”

Interestingly enough, returning to Parker’s story, back when she was only 100, her son, Clifford, came home from a high school basketball game to find her missing. It was nighttime; it was winter. After a search, her grandson, Don, found her in the snow in their apple orchard. “She was stiff as a 2-by-4,” Don remembered. “We really thought that was the end of her.” But, no, she recovered fully, suffering only frostbitten fingertips. Having outlived Clifford and another son, she now lives at the Heritage House Convalescent Center in Shelbyville. On the eve of her 115th, she was tickled by the gift of a photo album, pointing out snapshots of her two sons, saying, “That’s the boys, Clifford and Junior.”

The vast difference between 2 and 115 years struck me, of course, but also the vagaries in the course of a lifetime of whatever length. I have a birthday coming up in the near future, at an age when one is as likely to be hit by survivor’s guilt as the urge to celebrate. The tendency is to belabor oneself with all the things undone, rather than count one’s accomplishments, but I’m learning to relax somewhere in-between.

I have food to eat, a home to live in, the wherewithal every two weeks to pay for them, and enough free time to read my books. I’ve not written the Great American Novel, performed brain surgery, or climbed Everest, but then, Death comes democratically to Slacker and Nobel Laureate alike.

At the risk of going all Hallmark and Reader’s Digest epigrammatic on you, it is true that there’s something to celebrate in every given 24 hours: leaving work on a payday Friday (having a job, for that matter); a sunset; a dear friend who helps you cope.

“Carpe diem” never loses its validity, nor whatever—if anything—you use to replace the deity. Psalm 118:24: “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

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