“One step in front of the other until the road runs out!” That’s what a friend texted a few weeks ago.
I had texted her. (Why do we not talk to our friends anymore? What has happened to long, meandering conversations?)
I had done what we all do now, picked up my phone after watching her woo a crowd, after a night of smiles and applause, typing to this friend who is a singer, “Bravo!” and “Great job!” the things you say when someone blows you away.
She blew me away. She’s an entertainer, not since early childhood — she wasn’t born into the profession — and she didn’t train at a conservatory. But she’s been singing since she was young enough that her stage presence alone could lasso an audience.
It was easier then, when she was young, though she had a husband and children and a full life away from the stage. It was easier, physically, to work all day, to mother, to befriend, to shop for dinner, then cook dinner, to practice songs and learn lyrics in between folding laundry. She ran on hopes and dreams and ambition back then. At the end of a day, she put on makeup and a fancy dress and off she went, to clubs, to halls, to events and fund-raisers, hitting the high notes all through her 30s and 40s and 50s, and well into her 60s.
It’s harder to hit the high notes now. Everything is harder. It happens slowly, this sudden transformation. And it happens to all of us in some way. One day you’re running to catch a bus, to catch a train, you’re running up stairs and down stairs, running your natural pace, your stride. This is how you navigate the world: full throttle ahead.
And then, without warning, you’re all of a sudden clutching banisters, sauntering instead of sprinting, then pausing to pretend-read a poster on a light pole or to fawn over a pot of mums in someone’s yard while you catch your breath.
You used to be “That Girl,” striding down the street in three-inch heels, the wind blowing your hair. You used to be all motion. Now you wait for the pedestrian light to turn green and hope you can make it across the street before the light turns red again.
I find myself clicking on exercise videos that have suddenly begun to appear in my e-mails. “How to get out of a chair.” “How to get up off the floor.” I can get out of a chair now. I can get up off the floor now. But if a day should come when I cannot? I will have skills.
“One foot in front of the other until the road runs out,” my friend wrote. And then she added: “I love the journey.”
And there it is, the reason she continues to perform. Why she is still good. Why the crowd loves her. Why, though it isn’t easy for her to get gussied up and out the door and drive through god-awful traffic into Boston, find parking, then make her way onto a stage. She acts, when she is on stage, as if it hasn’t taken her hours simply to get to this point.
Her fingers can’t latch a necklace anymore, so if someone isn’t nearby to help she wears over-the-head necklaces. Her fingers can’t attach the backs of pierced earrings, so she wears clip-ons. She used to use one cane. Now she uses two. She used to stand when she sings. Now she sits in a high-back chair. But she knows the names of everyone in the room. And she asks the names of strangers who wander in. And she remembers their names. She engages. She connects. And when she sings in her sultry, sassy voice, she gives life and new meaning to old songs.
I gave a talk a while ago called, “It’s Never Too Late To Do What You Love.” Maybe that’s why a link to a YouTube video “It’s Never Too Late” (youtube.com/watch?v=zDy2gN4pu7c) showed up in my e-mail. (Or maybe it’s because I clicked on “How to Get up off the Floor,” too many times and Siri has my number.) Whatever the reason, there it was, a TED talk given five years ago by Dilys Price, then an 84-year-old woman from Wales who had taken up parachuting when she was 55 and was STILL jumping.
One step in front of the other until the road runs out. One step. One leap. One song. Whatever it is that, at the end of a day, sustains you and prompts you to say to a friend, “I love the journey.”
Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at email@example.com.