The Expanded Horizons of a Narrowed Life

(By Pam Lockeby -- Associated Press)
By Joan McQueeney Mitric
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, March 12, 2007

Recently I joined the legions of boomers entering our seventh decade. It was not as much fun as the big 5-0.

But then I remembered Jane Kenyon's poem: "It Could Have Been Otherwise."

On Oct. 30, 2001, I slammed our Volvo into a guardrail and woke up several hours later to the news that brain tumors were the reason I'd blacked out on a curvy country road not five minutes from our front door. Five years ago this January I had the larger tumor "excised," as brain surgeons are fond of saying.

That autumn my mind -- like the rest of the nation -- was already whirling on hyper-alert. Remember: Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, anthrax was lacing mail on Capitol Hill and killing postal workers at Washington's Brentwood facility. And we'd just started bombing Afghanistan.

The "uninvited guests" in my upper chambers were a Halloween nightmare.

But they brought unforeseen psychic benefits.

For about seven months before and after my surgery, I was not allowed to drive. This control freak was told by her doctors to sit in the back and shut up.

Through no choice of my own I simplified my life. And I must say today -- five years later -- I miss the Suburban Thoreau personality that gradually evolved as I prepared for major surgery and slowed down.

I began to notice things again. Yellow finches in the birdbath, diagonal shafts of light through the pines at sunrise, a night shower of meteorites. And clouds.

I pulled Henry David Thoreau's "Walden" off the shelf. Once again, I realized what an incredible philosopher he was. No vagabond wastrel, Thoreau described what he saw when he allowed himself to breathe deeply. I began to observe my surroundings at different hours of the day, just as Thoreau had.

Suddenly dependent on family, friends or mass transit to get me to a seemingly endless merry-go-round of doctors, I rediscovered my feet for ordinary errands. Always a walker, I became the omnipresent biped lady in my Kensington neighborhood.

I developed solidarity with my fellow bus passengers, many of them the worker bees who clean our offices, iron our shirts, stuff our empanadas and landscape our lawns. I realized we rarely notice how others live as we whiz by in cars.

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