I have come to know them by the way they command the room upon entrance. Shirley, the dancer, swings her hips gliding across the floor and asking if we will be doing Mambos today. The woman with the glasses, whose name I always forget, forges through the crowd to the stereo to make sure that it is fired up and ready to go (no Sinatra for her — a lesson I learned the hard way). Lori, perhaps one of the most dignified women I have ever encountered, simply graces the room with a warm smile and a hug for anyone who will receive it.
For me,though, no one lights up the room quite like Marvin. Usually the last to arrive, he slowly climbs out of his cream colored Pontiac (a classic in the 80s) and makes his way to the door. Cane in hand, he slowly shuffles into the room. At first glance he is nothing out of the oridinary. He does not flash a fancy sweat suit but keeps the same uniform of light denim, shiny loafers, a freshly pressed button down, and a well-worn jacket with matching vest. He is not overtly handsome, but always well put together. His wavy locks are parted on the right and smoothed down with light gel. While most days he is freshly shaven, the occasional five o’clock shadow suggests that I should just be glad he made it. He does not smell of peppermint and tobacco, just the faintest hint of dryer sheets. He does not announce his arrival, but always acts surprise that I set up his equipment for him . . .double mat and all.
The light he brings to the room is not charisma nor charm. Marvin simply brings the presence of a life well-lived. In fact, at 87, he is the oldest in the room. He would be the first to tell you that he is also the slowest, and the first to get tired. Somedays he sits and watches more than he participates. On those days he always cracks jokes about needing to pay a spectator fee. I always chuckle totally unable to hide the admiration I have for him just being there.
The first day I met Marvin, I found myself fighting tears. Every day since my response to his presence has been the same. I do not feel sad, but actually happy to see him. I do not feel pity, for there is nothing about him that is pitiful. I am not even sure the weepy feeling is concern, for he has given no cause for that. There is just something about him that ilicits a deep love and respect that brings great emotion with it.
I introduced Marvin to my husband one day, he thanked me repeatedly for the my thoughtfulness. Upon catching a glimpse of a tube peeking through the buttons of his shirt, I asked if he had someone to take care of him. He responded that he had a wife at home, but that she was a little on the weak side. Turns out, he takes care of her. He apologizes constantly for not doing more, and hopes I know that it isn’t me. He comes with no agenda, no demands, just a willingness to get all that he can from all that he’s offered.
Marvin is much closer to the end of his life than the beginning and he has obviously learned the art of contentment. He seeks not his own, and is greatful for every gesture offered to him. He is in need of little, and wants nothing. His body is failing him, his “purpose” in life has come and gone, and he is stuck with me at 7:30 in the morning listening to show tunes and doing the mambo. And still he thanks me every day.
People often talk about living each day as though it were your last. Country artists croon about living like you were dying, rock artists scream into microphones about if today was your last day, as you drive by my church you might even see a quote about today being a gift from God. Perhaps living like today is your last day isn’t about sky diving or even saying all the things you need to say. Perhaps living each day as though it were a gift, is living like Marvin: finding contentment in gratitude.
I want to enter tomorrow with no agenda and demands. I want to get all that I can from all the day offers. And when the sun goes down I want to thank the One who made it all possible. I want to be like Marvin. Maybe that is why I get weepy. He, in his plaid shirt and loafers, embodies the contentment I so long for — he, who has so little, truly has it all.
Today Marvin was telling me that he has not gone to the Saturday class, even though he is registered for it. He is not sure he wants to try a different teacher.
“I just think I’m pretty lucky to have gotten you,” he told me.
The feeling is mutual, Marvin. The feeling is mutual.