I’ve been thinking about how lucky I am. Please understand that I am not using the word “lucky” as shorthand to describe the idea of ‘fortunate’ or ‘secure’ or ‘genetic lottery winner’. I am lucky. I’ll explain why.

“Ya see, this one lady is persistent, but the other’s the only one I want to date.” At Lifetime, I found myself inadvertently eavesdropping on a conversation between two men, one in his late 40s, the other in his 30s. The one talking was the older of the two, and from the way he was speaking, I couldn’t decide if he’d been through a difficult divorce or simply never married. It didn’t matter, though, he was describing how interested he was in this woman in his life.

“I called her and I asked if she wanted to get something to eat tomorrow night.”

“That’s New Year’s Eve.”

“I know; I thought, ‘what the heck’.”

“So, you asked her out?”

“Well, not really. I mean, I didn’t ask her out specifically, but I asked her about dinner… I said I knew it was last minute, and all.”

“So, you asked her out.”

Here was someone halfway through his life, tentatively testing the path forward in relationships. It got me thinking: none of us are far from his position. No matter how (consciously or unconsciously) smug someone in a successful relationship may feel, it is humbling to consider that we can never insure ourselves against loneliness.

Nearly two week ago, I was working during my last day as the student dentist at a local nursing home. Here, the average age of patients is 78 years. Most need a lot of help getting from their chair to the dental chair. Some can not move much at all, and must be transferred using a special sheet. Having been there for a month, I fancied myself desensitized to the maladies of the population. There was still plenty to surprise me, though.

Mrs. C. came in for a routine cleaning with her husband and daughter. Suffering from chronic Parkinson’s and dosed with Ativan to make her experience easier, there was no question I’d be treating her in her wheelchair. Her daughter showed me the controls for tipping her mother back. “It’ll lean back quite far, actually” she said, surprising me with the rapidity with which the adjustments were made.

C. gave no indication that she understood anything I was saying, and had quite a lot of trouble cooperating with the cleaning. We got through it. When I wheeled her back to the waiting area, her husband lit up. “There she is!” he exclaimed, taking the handlebars of the wheelchair from me, the inexperienced driver. He kissed her tenderly on her head, knowing full well she didn’t know who he was, and would never be capable of reciprocating, even if she did.

It isn’t even possible to imagine all the ways we can lose the people we love. The moment you start seeing your relationships as routine, static, rigid things is the same moment you abandon them to decay. Our connections to others live and breathe just as much as we do, and they need the same amount of care. I’m just starting to learn this.

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