A profile of the actor Laura Linney in the New York Times magazine portrays her as a guileless enthusiast, but one whose optimism is tempered by the very conscious awareness of how lucky we are simply to be alive. One catalyst was the sudden death of close friend and fellow actor Natasha Richardson at 45 in a skiing accident. Another is her starring role in a Showtime cable series called “The Big C,” about a woman with incurable cancer. “The undertow of it deals with all of the stuff I’ve been obsessing about anyway: time. Living. Aging. Mostly, the privilege of aging,” Linney said.
Her wording strikes me as an eloquent twist on the old saw that aging sure beats the alternative. In the article Linney pointed out that, “A lot of people don’t get that privilege. And there’s an extreme disrespect toward that that’s cuckoo.” Whenever she’s about to complain about sagging skin or creaky joints, she imagines her departed friends “taking me by my shoulders and shaking me: ‘Snap out of it!’”
At play here is the all-too-human aversion to thinking of our days as numbered. Also of course, the regrettable but the deeper tendency to focus on insults and losses long after the sweet moments have faded from random-access memory. (I finally encountered a scientific explanation for this apparently cross-species behavior. Pain signals danger. It gets more neural bandwidth because it’s potentially a threat to survival. In other words, it’s a lot more important to remember the spot where a predator nearly swooped down and ate you than the one with the really scenic view.)
I try and combat it with an out-loud mantra — “life is sweet” — when happiness floods me, as a means of imprinting the moment upon my memory. Just this week: dancing in the back room of the top floor of the last outpost of a Bushwick warehouse party to the fantastic, and regrettably Oakland-based, DJ Flood. Standing next to my daughter in an overpriced, undercooled basement bar on East Houston while her girlfriend sang her a love song in front of all her friends. It’s why I saved a long-ago Thanksgiving Day text from my friend Kate Zidar: “Gratitude gratitude gratitude.” And Thanksgiving’s upon us again already.