“You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone,” I said to Ray while we held hands before dinner.
“It’s true, but what made you think of that?” he asked.
“I don’t know. It’s from that song. It’s been playing in my head non-stop for a while.”
“Peter, Paul, and Mary?”
Throughout the day, thoughts pop into my head, reminding me to fully appreciate what I’ve got. I wish I could say I have always been aware of the remarkable people in our lives, our beautiful homes, and our beloved dogs. But, I haven’t been. Maybe that doesn’t come to you until you’re older. I now have more time to reflect, reminisce, and savor memories. So, throughout the day I now think, “What would my life be like without him? Without it?”
As I walked out of the bedroom yesterday, and called out, “Good morning,” as I do each morning, I counted on hearing, “Good morning, hon. Did you sleep well?”
“What would it be like if I heard no response to ‘Good morning’?” I asked myself.
Every single day, twice a day, at nap time, and bedtime, Lincoln, our 55-pound Labradoodle, gets on the bed and allows himself to gently fall on top of me, like a giant tree that’s been cut. His expectation is a full-body massage. If I have my iPad on my lap, he pushes it away with his nose. It’s his competition for my attention.
I love the attention he gives me, especially the full-face kisses, but lately I’m drawn to reading male-on-male mysteries and romance novels. Yet, I try to remind myself, “You can read those for the rest of your life, but you won’t always have Lincoln.” Then, I gladly put aside the erotic fantasy, and pet and appreciate our dog.
“You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”
One aspect of aging that challenges me is the awareness that I no longer can do anything I want. There was a time when I knew I was young enough, even at midlife, to do anything that I wanted to do. Life has an abundance of options, but they become less practical as you age. I once spent a week with Ray and friends climbing the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, but that wouldn’t be possible today. At age 60, I got my motorcycle license and my scuba diving certificate, primarily to prove to myself that I still could do anything I wanted. We take our options, our strength and vitality for granted, and we aren’t aware of them until they’re gone.
Across from my reading chair are several pictures of remarkable people in my life all of whom have died. I loved them all, as fully as I knew how, but I didn’t appreciate at the time how lucky I was to have them as dear friends. My sister, Kathy’s, death last year knocked the wind out of me once it became clear that I could no longer call her, and knew there will never be another person in my life who could be to me what she was to me. I’m grateful that she knew how very special she was to me. My younger brother, Tom, too. I love him deeply, and recently wrote to say, “Thank you for being the best younger brother ever.” But what about the other people in my life? Do I know and understand what I’ve got with them?
Do I know what I’ve got with the car I drive? If it was totaled, I’d grieve knowing it was irreplaceable. We bought it with the money I got from my father, upon his death. But, do I think of that as I walk toward it in the grocery store parking lot? What about my home, and my garden, and Wilton Manors, the town in which we live? Am I conscious of how lucky I am to be where I am?
I’ve got everything I need to be really happy in my life. I’m aware of being happy, but I’m not always tuned into the various components of my lifestyle that bring me joy. I get to go to the nursery every day, if I want and buy a plant to go in the garden. Not everyone can do that. Not everyone has a car to drive or a garden to fill. I hope to be fully aware of everything I’ve got, and to express gratitude for each and every piece of the puzzle that is my life, before a piece goes missing.
I just looked over and saw that Ray, with Lincoln’s head in his lap, and his iPad on his knee, had his eyes closed with his glasses on. Every night he falls asleep while reading. I touch him gently and say his name. He opens his eyes a little and pretends he hadn’t fallen asleep. I say, “Can I take your glasses off for you, put your iPad on the table, and pull out the pillows you don’t sleep on?” “No thank you,” he says. “I’m going to keep reading.” A minute later, I know I’ll hear the sound of his soft snore. I want to hear that every night for the rest of my life, but there are no guarantees.
My focus lately has been to know what I’ve got, and fully appreciate it, so that when it’s gone, I don’t wish I had paid it more attention, and been more grateful. That goes for good friends, the ability to grocery shop and prepare our meals, climb on a ladder, shower standing up, go to the pain doctor, walk the dog, hear Ray’s voice, and have a place to share my thoughts.
My days of not knowing what I’ve got til it’s gone are over. I hope.
Brian McNaught has been a leading educator on LGBTQ issues globally since 1974. He has made his many books and DVDs available for free at Brian-McNaught.com. The New York Times named him “The Godfather of gay diversity training.” Brian has a weekly YouTube/FaceBook podcast called, “Are You Happy Without the Movie?” and McNaught's latest book, “On Being Gay and Gray: Our Stories, Gifts, and the Meaning of Our Lives” is available now on Amazon for $14.99.