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July 8, 2004
As for the aches and pains, husband's old friend writes matter-of-factly, and then proceeds with a quick rundown of the ailments which have visited him and his wife this year. Most of the letters we receive contain such a list -- it's the usual suspects, mostly: arthritis, cataract surgery, high blood pressure, diabetes. We can reciprocate with a list of our own, but it's almost all my stuff: Q, twenty-three years older than I am, is ruddy with health, runs up and down the stairs twenty times a day, toils outside in the garden for hours to no apparent ill effect.

It's such a blessing to be the way you are, I tell him, and he quietly agrees. He has passed the strange and disconcerting moment of becoming older than his father ever got. You will be 111 on our fiftieth wedding anniversary, I tell him, planning ahead. What do you think we should we serve our guests?

Something soft, he suggests, but I don't know about that. He'll probably have the rack of lamb.

The body is a miraculous thing. So faithful for so long: the heart, beating away for years and years and years. The lungs, filling and emptying. The blood, moving surely through its conduits -- each cell so good at what it does. Made for it.

And even the bodies that don't work as well -- miraculous, too. Able to find other ways of doing what the normal ways can no longer accomplish. So responsive to the healing art, so courageously willing to fight for life. So intelligent about the need for rest, and so able to stop the show when it is necessary to do so: It is time to lie down now, your body says, and before you know it, you're down.

And yet, for all the intricacy of this miraculous body, how fragile and temporary we are, how brief the longest life is. How quickly forgotten we are. We are amazing, but we do not rule. Delight in your ephemeral health, or, if health is not yours to grasp, take your illness and weakness as the natural process it is. Prepare and hope for miracle, but do not be surprised at anything that happens.

What a piece of work is Man! How noble in reason! How infinite in
faculties! In form and moving, how express and admirable! In action, how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a god! The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals! And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust? -- Hamlet (II,ii,115-116)
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