Every day, I get a little older. Age accumulates like a dripping faucet; before you know it, the sink is overflowing. And in that torrent, I find that most of my frustrations aren’t with the advancing years per se, but with the little things I encounter along the way.
These early mornings, my fingers fumble with my collar button as I struggle to put on my necktie. (That’s another story for another day.) The pants that fit yesterday seem tighter today. My shoelaces seem to get farther and farther away. I have a little pain here and a little ache there. It’s one thing after another, nothing very big at the time, but rather an accumulation of all the little things that leave me either frustrated, exhausted, or ready for a glass of wine by noon.
It didn’t use to be like this. I could usually take things in stride, but now, not only is my stride shorter, so is my fuse. I struggle to keep my equilibrium, my pot from boiling over. I don’t mean to imply you should cross the street if you see me coming, but I am aware that my usual pleasant mien might be getting a little more mean these days.
So, what’s the antidote? It seems reasonable to me that if it’s the little things that are causing the problem, maybe the solution lies in other little things. The play of light on water, for example; or a grandchild’s laughter; or a quiet moment on the porch or even a goodnight kiss from my wife. These little things are like money in the bank: they accumulate with interest.
The difference between the little things that frustrate me and the little things that restore me is gratitude. One of my grandkids recently performed a song in school titled “Gratitude is Attitude.” It was performed with lots of moving body parts, but its meaning made as much sense to me as it did to my kindergarten thespian: we can find joy in almost anything, so why let the little things get you down? Maybe I knew how to do that once upon a time, but I must have forgotten how somewhere along the way. Now, when the frustration begins to build, I don’t stop, drop, and roll, but I do refocus and think about all the joy that infuses my life. I breathe. I take stock of all the things for which I’m grateful. I’d like to tell you that works all the time, but the truth is it doesn’t. But it helps.
I once had a dear friend who told me, “getting old is not for sissies.” Sadly, he’s gone now, but how right he was! But the ‘gratitude is attitude’ mantra can help. I realize we’ve all drawn different lots in life, and that the little things that frustrate me are nothing in comparison to others who face far greater challenges. I bow to people who are called to climb higher mountains than the ones in front of me. Still, whether I’m climbing a hill or a mountain, the summit comes quicker if I stop and enjoy the view along the way.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. His new novel “This Salted Soil,” a new children’s book, “The Ballad of Poochie McVay,” and two collections of essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”), are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is Musingjamie.net.