When I was in my twenties, I had an unlikely friend—an eighty-year-old man who had been the creator of Casper the Friendly Ghost. His name was Seymour Reit, and he was a tiny, spry guy prone to wearing pressed jeans and crisp button-down shirts. We’d meet for coffee once in a while, Sy and I, and at some point during our coffee, he always reached into the breast pocket of his shirt and pull out an index card. I grew to anticipate those index cards. Later, I treasured them. In Sy’s neat, elegant, slanted print, he wrote out quotes for me that he thought might be useful to me some day.
My favorite of these is a Hebrew Sabbath Prayer: “Days pass, the years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles. Lord, fill our eyes with seeing and our minds with knowing. Let there be moments in which your presence, like lightning, illumines the darkness in which we walk.”
Sightless among miracles.
I am now twice the age I was when Sy first pressed that index card into my hand, and he is long gone. That index card has moved with me from apartment to apartment, has been pinned to bulletin board after bulletin board. It is at the root of everything I know about life—those illusive bits of wisdom that come and go like the tide. It reminds me of a very beautiful passage near the start of Joan Didion’s memoir, Blue Nights. Didion recalls a moment when she and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, attended the wedding of their daughter, Quintana: “We still counted happiness and health and love and luck and beautiful children as ‘ordinary blessings.’”
That word: still. It hovers on the page. Portending loss. Within a short time, both Didion’s husband and daughter will have died. She will be widowed. Childless. Looking back at a moment of bounty—and the lack of recognition of that bounty. Of those blessings, which are anything but ordinary. At her own sightlessness among miracles.
As I write this, it is a beautiful autumn afternoon. I’m wearing yoga clothes, in anticipation of taking an early evening class at a beautiful studio near my home. My big, white fluffy dog is sleeping next to the chaise lounge where I write. The other dog is curled up on his bed in my bedroom. A book I just finished reviewing is on the pile next to me. A few minutes ago, my fourteen-year-old son FaceTimed me from prep school, just to say hi. My husband is down the road at his office, working on a screenplay.
Lord, fill my eyes with seeing and my mind with knowing.
I feel it all the time, these days. The passage of time. Days passing. Years vanishing. In the cool autumn nights, the New England leaves, just starting to turn. In the photos in my family photo albums. This relative, no longer with us. That friend, drifted away. My own face, older, staring back at me in the mirror.
Illumine the darkness in which I walk.
I want to gather up each and every ordinary blessing in my arms. I want to open my eyes, release my clenched palms. Feel the winds of time against my face. Allow myself to be touched by all of it. And understand that it’s all a great, unlikely miracle—this moment, this life. And embrace it.
Dani Shapiro’s most recent books include the bestselling memoirs Devotion and Slow Motion and the novels Black & White and Family History. She teaches writing workshops nationally and internationally. Her stories and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, O The Oprah Magazine, Elle, Vogue, The New York Times Book Review, and many other publications, and have been broadcast on NPR’s “This American Life.” She lives with her family in Connecticut. You can also follow Dani on Twitter and Facebook.
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