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When I was young

Published June 16. 2012 09:01AM

When I was young I could eat leftover spaghetti and meatballs for breakfast if I wanted. Or, I could have two toasted crullers filled with peanut butter.

I could enjoy every last lick without having my conscience bother me and without thinking about things like cholesterol, clogged arteries and excess pounds.

But now, as I look around and see so many older people who can't climb one step to get on a bus, I know I am no longer given a free pass when it comes to health. I have to earn it.

I have to eat right and keep moving in order for all my working parts to keep on working.

Every week seems to bring another newspaper or Internet article about the benefits of exercise. This week's story said there is strong evidence eating healthier and exercising even helps once serious disease sets in.

In other words, it's never too late to reap the results. So I'm keeping my promise to myself to enjoy at least one hour of strenuous activity every day.

When I was young, I worried about my looks. Was the hair OK? Did I have another pimple?

Now that I'm older, I worry about my health, not my looks. While "worry" isn't really the right verb, concerned with health is probably more accurate.

When I was young, I took health for granted and so did everyone my age. Now, I look around me and see two different kinds of reality.

One reality is the sad number of friends whose lives are substantially changed when they can no longer get around. Another reality is the one I encounter when I go to the Y.

All around me at the gym I see success stories that inspire and motivate me. I see 80 and even 90-year-old men and women working out. Yes, they do it more slowly than the thirty year olds with whom they share classes. But they walk in with their little gym bags and they don't leave until they earned some sweat equity.

When I was young I thought everything was black and white. I dogmatically made up my mind quickly and seldom wavered in my viewpoint. Now I see shades of gray in so many areas.

I sometimes sound like Tevye the Milkman in Fiddler on the Roof, saying, "On one hand. but on the other hand ..."

When I was young, I thought everything was forever.

Love was forever. When it was mine, it wasn't going to go away. Neither fickle feelings nor death could steal it from me. Experience taught me differently.

When I was young, I was lulled into believing family was forever. I thrived on the good times with my crazy Italian family where the lively conversation around the dinner table rivaled the superb food.

Spending Sunday nights at my aunt's house with my extended family was a treasured weekly ritual. I never looked around the corner to see that it wouldn't always be like that.

While I was in the midst of those Sunday evenings, I never realized one by one the DeVito sisters would be plucked away and my world would keep on shrinking.

When our family filled half a church at a funeral mass, I never realized the day would come when the remaining few would fill only a pew.

When I was young, I thought I would always be able to pick up the phone every Saturday morning and talk with my mother. I took those phone calls for granted until they were no longer mine to have.

When I was young, I didn't appreciate that sparing someone's feelings was more important than being right. My father told me as I aged I would keep my feelings to myself more often. He was right.

When I was young, I thought life's richest experiences were out there somewhere for me to find.

But for at least the last two decades, I realize that life's most precious riches are right in front of me, in my own home and by my side. I realize I don't have to go looking for great things. Nothing is greater than what is already within arm's reach.

When I was young, I thought people and places didn't change all that much. My old hometown looked much the same decades after I left it. And people in my life seemed fairly constant, too. Or so I thought.

Now, I know that change is one of our only certainties. People and places change, even if it's ever so slowly. Perhaps it's more accurate to say we evolve. As long as we have life, we keep evolving.

When I was young I thought the days were long and life was too. The older I get, the more I realize how short both are.

I realize we have to relish every second and to cherish life for the fragile gift that it is.

I may no longer be the kid who could eat spaghetti and meatballs for breakfast. But I'm still a kid at heart who gets a kick out of life.

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