Tuesday was a Dickensian sort of day; a day which really did possess the best and worst of times simultaneously. We learned an old friend had passed away, a man just a bit older than us who was part of our life in Raleigh. Jerry had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s about 15 years ago. Throughout this journey, he and his wife, Sue, have been an inspiration, tackling the consequences of this horrid disease with all the grace and faith two people can muster.
I remembered a spring day years ago outside Pullen Park pool in North Carolina. Jerry’s wife, Sue, confided that she was concerned about Jerry. He had become forgetful, to the degree it was impacting his life and work. At the time, my own father had entered the late states of early onset Alzheimer’s. But on that day, I could not bring myself to admit this, to speak those words out loud. Alzheimer’s disease eventually mutes the victim, but it also mutes the family. Perhaps that’s why this disease languishes in the shadows with less funding than it deserves. People like me sweep it under the carpet rather than face the gut wrenching pain of discussing it.
But not Sue. She grabbed the diagnosis with both hands, speaking with those impacted in similar circumstances, pouring out her deepest tribulations, raising both funds and awareness. She somehow ripped out the smallest of silver linings from the darkest of clouds and made it her focus.
When Pat woke up, I told him of Jerry’s passing. And I wished him Happy Birthday. Pat turned 57 on April 8th. While he generally doesn’t sweat birthdays, he seemed to sweat this one.
“Julie, I’m not going to like this birthday. I hear that 60 is terrible.”
“But Pat, you aren’t turning 60. You are only 57.”
“I know. But 60 feels so much closer now.”
We didn’t fixate on turning 57 or 60 or 92. After all, we had a flight to catch. Tuesday afternoon, we set off for Rome and to meet up with American friends.
When I returned from my shower, Pat was still laying in bed, obviously reflecting on the day. “There is a sweet spot in life. My sweet spot was when our kids were little; playing in the neighborhood and running off to activities, basketball games, and swim meets. Our friends were young, our parents were still young, we had so little bad news infringe on our lives. Jerry and your dad were there during those times. They will always be a piece of my sweet spot.” He has no idea how much this means to me – the realization that each life exists in someone’s sweet spot. When a death is particularly terrible and drawn out, you sometimes lose sight of the value of that life. You forget the person who lived before the disease.
I never considered the sweet spots of life – at least until now. Ironically, you never realize how sweet these spots are while they are happening. Only after time and perspective and age do you realize how good the good parts have been.
For me, life is a series of sweet spots. Sure, some are bigger and more long lasting than others. Right now, I am in a sweet spot. I am writing this from a tiny apartment in Rome. Sun is streaming through the window which overlooks a courtyard. Today, we are in no rush to get going. Eventually we will walk through the ancient city, snap a few photos, drink some Italian wine and eat the most perfect of wood oven pizzas. Some years down the road, we will look back at these days and marvel at how young we once were and reminisce about our crazy years living abroad and our trip to Rome.
Sometimes when I am cooking, I discover a recipe which sounds intriguing; a mix of flavors which I can’t imagine tastefully co-existing. As I measure it all together, the savory, sweet and bitter, I worry – and make backup plans for dinner. Then we taste it; tentatively at first but with more and more gusto. The result is a perfect melding of so many conflicting ingredients.
Such is life. This week we celebrated a birth, mourned a death, remembered two great men, set off on an adventure, caught up with old friends. The bitter and the sweet, the best and the worst. When it’s all put together, it is still so dazzling.
More that usual, I am going to live this trip in the moment. I am going to recognize a sweet spot while I am in it, right here and right now. Someday, I hope to look back on this time. When I do, I want it to be perfect.