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Open Road

by Catherine Watson
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Part of the Deal

Packing up for the trip back to Minnesota from New Mexico, I'm pondering what I've learned by escaping three months of winter. Quite a bit, as it turns out.

I've learned that you can't necessarily write an entire book in three months, but you can make a dent. That virtually constant sunshine, day-in, day-out, does NOT get boring. That you can reinvent yourself at any age, if you really want to. And that the real trick is wanting to.

I was thinking about that in aerobics class this morning - a roomful of retired women exercising to a soundtrack of once-popular songs like "Leader of the Pack'' and "Goin' to the Chapel, an' we're gonna get ma-ar-aried!'' We know all the words, and sometimes we sing along. It looks and sounds a little silly - but I always come out of the class revved up and smiling.

I was also thinking about people I've met who wouldn't be caught dead doing that. They're the same people I've overheard all winter, complaining about being out of breath at the top of a single flight of stairs, or lamenting how much their feet hurt from a routine trip through the grocery store, or just plain lamenting.

"Fight it,'' I keep wanting to tell them. "Fight it hard.'' Because if you don't fight now - and you just keep telling yourself you're old - old is what you will be.

I firmly believe that. Bust sometimes I give in to bleak thoughts and wonder "who am I kidding?'' That happened late one night a couple of weeks ago, when the only bedtime reading on hand was a little, beat-up volume of meditations that I've carried on trips for nearly 20 years.

It's a collection of excerpts from "A Course in Miracles,'' and over time, I've filled its margins with my own notes and discoveries. I don't turn to it very often now, but this night I needed to. I felt old and dismal.
The lines that grabbed me were in my own handwriting, about a personal trauma. In the spring of 1992, I was attacked on a walking path near my home in south Minneapolis, on a warm afternoon, in full daylight.

I knew I was being killed. But neighbors heard me scream and my dog bark and came running. They rescued me, but it was a full year before I dared travel alone and much longer than that before I could go through a day without thinking about it.

What I'd written in the little book, several years later, startled me into a better frame of mind: "When my life was spared on the path,'' it read, "there was a sort of contract in it - to stick around for the future - and much as I despise it, growing old was part of the deal.''

True enough, I thought. That's exactly what it was - and still is.

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