Here’s a challenge: Try to recall the experiences you had as a child exploring a world that was constantly presenting you with new sights, sounds, tastes, places and people. Then try to re-experience that excitement, that sense that you have never been in this moment before and if you don’t live it right this instant you’ll never have that chance again. It’s very difficult. Our lives’ accumulations of responsibilities, disappointments, obligations, and sheer repetitive behaviors make that long-ago feeling of wonder as hard to reclaim as youth itself. Life can seem, after thousands of days matched by nights that bridge them one to the next, anything but exciting. Unless …
I attended a birthday party recently. It was a surprise, which I’ll mention again shortly. The celebrant (while not knowing she was a celebrant – remember, it was a surprise!) was about to turn 90 in a month and her daughters thought the best way to pull one over on her was to plan the party so early she’d have no idea a lunch at Peddler’s Village was really a gathering of friends and family doing our best to remain quiet in an upstairs room. We arrived a half hour early as instructed. We headed to the second floor, where a room of 40 or so partygoers had gathered, not yet making an effort to be silent since the guest of honor was still a few miles away, tracked by texting between her grandson and a second passenger in on the ruse.
Finally we were all told to stop talking, she’s here! We shushed each other until no one as much as whispered, waited another minute, and in walked Lottie, escorted by two relatives who’d told her they were bringing her for a Sunday meal.
What, you’re wondering, does any of this have to do with living exuberantly? When Lottie walked into the room and expressed genuine, exuberant surprise, that’s how she always is! If you spend an hour with Lottie, you soon realize that her way of speaking as if the moment she’s in has just startled her in the best possible way – the way the world seemed to surprise us all when we were too young to believe more in disappointment than we do in joyful serendipity – is the way she experiences life. Everything seems wondrous to her, even past events most of us would yawn about or retell as if by obligation. Lottie talks about a long ago visit from a friend as if it was, and remains, the most delightful experience she’s ever had. Judging from her effusiveness, most of her experiences are the most delightful she’s ever had!
She lives, you might say, by the exuberance principle: Be awed by what life offers you, for life itself is the greatest mystery and the biggest surprise of all. That you are here. That you can speak. That you can love. That you can be kind. That you, and you alone among creatures, can choose to do unto others what your heart yearns be done to you. And that every second of it is amazing. Greet each one with exuberance, for the moment we find ourselves in, reacted to with dismay, indifference or delight, is a moment that confronts us only once in our entire lives. Be aware it’s just come upon you, and say, “Surprise!”
Mark McNease is the Editor of lgbtSr, a website “where age is embraced and life is celebrated.” He’s the author of the Kyle Callahan Mysteries, co-editor and publisher of the anthology Outer Voices Inner Lives (Lambda Literary Award Finalist), host of the Live Mic with Mark podcast, co-host of The Twist Podcast, and the co-creator of the Emmy and Telly winning children’s program Into the Outdoors.