by Caitlin Johnstone
“Relish the gaps,” said the old woman at the nursing home, grabbing at my hand as I walked past.
“I’m sorry… do you need your nurse?” I said, reluctantly giving her my hand to hold.
Her bones felt frail. I wasn’t there to see her. I didn’t know this woman.
“Everyone lets life pass them by,” she said urgently, ignoring my obvious discomfort. “They’re always focused on attaining and accomplishing, meeting their goals, winning people’s approval. Then before they know it they’re sitting in a place like this, wondering where it all went.”
“I’ll tell you where it all went,” she continued, cutting me off before I could reply. “It zipped right past them while their minds were wrapped up in the next thing. The next event. The next goal. The next accomplishment. Then it’s all over, and all they’ve got is a handful of memories of those few things they were focused on, with all the gaps gone unnoticed and unappreciated.”
“The gaps?” I said.
“Yes the gaps child, the gaps in between! In between all those moments they spent their lives looking forward to. That’s where all the life is!”
She smiled and gave my hand a little pat before relaxing back into her chair. Her exertion had taken it out of her.
“Or almost all of it, anyways. All those moments where you’re sitting, walking, working, talking, seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling. Everyone lets them pass them by while they’re focused on other things. They don’t relish them. They don’t enjoy them as they come. It’s disrespectful, really.”
“Yes, love! Yes! Life goes to all this trouble to present them with a beautiful moment — a bird singing, the smell of coffee, light through the window — and they spit on it! They snub the invitation to relish and enjoy what’s on offer, just to focus on their own thoughts about what they did or didn’t do in the past and what they will or won’t do in the future. Do you not think that’s disrespectful?”
“It kinda is, huh?” I said. “I guess we get so wrapped up in goals and accomplishments that we don’t focus on the things that really matter, like family, kids, love — ”
“No no no, you’re still not getting it,” she growled, cutting me off again. “That’s not what this is about! Sure, loved ones are fine and good, but even if you focused on that you’d still be missing the gaps. If you focus on finding love, on spending enough time with everyone, on having kids and raising them, on making sure everyone in your life gets what they need from you and making sure you’re getting what you need from them — that’s still missing all those moments in between. The moments that don’t have any stories to them, that don’t depend on your thoughts about them. What about those? Are you there for them? Are you showing up to them?”
“You have all those gaps whether you have ten kids and a hundred friends or whether you live your whole life alone, and they’re just as beautiful and worthy of appreciation either way. I’ll tell you something for free lassie, I’ve lived more life in the last year here in this old folks’ home than the eighty-three before it, because I finally stopped thinking about life and started living it. It finally clicked. After I came here I was sitting here looking at my hands, and it just washed over me: Oh, this is it, isn’t it? This is where the joy really is. And so now I really relish each moment here. The hustle and bustle out there in the hallway, the chatter on my roommate’s TV, the light through the curtains, the cotton on my skin. And I really relish them. I relish each and every moment here. And it’s the happiest I’ve ever been.”
And with that she gave my hand a squeeze and sent me on about my day.
I never saw her again. The next time I was back at the nursing home there was another woman in her bed. I didn’t bother asking where she went; people don’t leave that place because they found work overseas.
I expected to feel sad about that, but the sadness never came. All that came up was a deep, squishy gratitude. A deep, squishy gratitude that never really left.