A couple of months ago, I wrote about my upcoming 45th high school reunion. I referred to such events as learning opportunities, for they teach us important lessons about life, including the art of aging gracefully.
Well, I did go to my reunion, and it turned out to be a great time of catching up with old friends and reminiscing about people and places I had all but forgotten. Yes, some of our class members have aged better than others. By and large, and with some notable exceptions, the way we’ve aged has had more to do with our brains than our bodies.
They say that “attitude is everything,” and my reunion illustrated the truth of that.
So now let me tell you about the most important learning of that evening — a story that is not only instructive but also inspiring.
Bill was a good friend in high school — a bright, witty and engaging fellow. We went to college together, after which he attended medical school, studying to become a pediatrician (you know, a “man of little patients”). While in med school, Bill was diagnosed with a rare disease of the optic nerve, and he was told that he would slowly lose his eyesight.
Bill met the bad news with a winning attitude. He started to memorize material in his medical textbooks that other students didn’t have to, because he knew that one day he would need the information in his head. He took lessons in Braille, “just in case.” Bill graduated from medical school and became an exceptional pediatrician. In the years that followed, his sight faded as predicted.
In the meantime, Bill did a second residency in pediatric psychiatry, since he could practice that specialty without sight. For the past few years he has been very effective in that field, and well thought of by his patients and their families.
Bill is now totally blind. But here is where the inspiration comes into the story: Since our last reunion, Bill and his wife have taken up ballroom dancing — western swing, to be exact. When the music started at the reunion, Bill and Alberta were on the dance floor for every song, spinning and twirling with obvious joy, smiling at each other. They were never “showing off” as some dancers do; they were completely entranced with one another, smiling from ear to ear.
I couldn’t help but notice that some of my other classmates were sitting back, casually observing, tracing the rims of their coffee cups, eyeing their watches to see how much longer the party would last. Not Bill and Alberta — they embraced the moment as closely as they embraced each other.
As I watched them, “dancing in the dark,” I remembered that great Tango scene in the movie, “Scent of a Woman,” with Al Pacino — except this scene was even better, more moving. It was a portrait of love, and love of life, and love for each other that will last long after the lights go out.
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