What Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Life Teaches Us About Thankful Moments
In Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” Emily Webb returns to Grover’s Corners for one day after her death to realize that every moment of life is a gift.
“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?” she asks the Stage Manager.
“No,” he says before amending his reply. “Saints and poets maybe…they do some.”
This was a favorite passage of Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s. Many knew her as a children’s book author. Others became familiar with her via charming NPR interviews or downright delightful YouTube videos featuring things she made (like her own published memoirs or a PBJ sandwich). But probably most people (four and a half million of them) came to know Amy through her heart-shattering and beautiful “Modern Love” column in the New York Times entitled “You May Want to Marry My Husband.” It’s a poignant, authentic personal essay, an exquisite love letter and a charming dating profile written for a man by a woman more familiar with his charms than anyone else on the planet — his wife.
Amy, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2015, composed the column during fleeting moments of consciousness while fastened to plastic tubes conveying calories and painkillers. Deadlines are strong motivators, and hers was “pressing.”
I need to say this (and say it right) while I have a) your attention, and b) a pulse.
I have been married to the most extraordinary man for 26 years. I was planning on at least another 26 together.
10 days later, Amy was gone. She was 51.
Even before she was diagnosed with cancer, Amy lamented the limits of mortality.
“Invariably, I will have to move on before I have had enough,” she once wrote. “My first word was ‘more.’ It may very well be my last.”
It’s extraordinarily human, this tendency of Amy’s and all of ours to want more than our share, no matter how much we’re allotted. When something is rare and beautiful and finite, the sudden scarcity of it can be devastating. Nothing exemplifies the heartbreak of impermanence better than the passage of time, and yet those of us who aren’t facing a countdown spend it recklessly, as if we have an endless supply. We don’t.
This resistance to experiencing life while we live it is a common problem — so common that psychologists have given it a name: Destination Addiction, the relentless pursuit of happiness, which, by definition, means you’ll never get it. We spend so much time chasing happiness that we forget to feel it.
There’s a reason we call them “Thankful Moments.” They’re fleeting, ephemeral. And there are only so many of them to be had. Amy understood this, and in an endearing and unpretentious way, she sought to help others understand it, too.
“How many more times, then, do I get to look at a tree?” she asked. “Let’s just say it’s 12,395. Absolutely, that’s a lot, but it’s not infinite, and I’m thinking anything less than infinite is too small a number and not satisfactory. At the very least, I want to look at trees a million more times. Is that too much to ask?”
So look at the trees. As often as you can. Look at the people you love. Those Thankful Moments will never be enough, but put together at the end, they will add up to an extraordinary existence. Realize life while you’re living it and you, Amy and all the other Saints and Poets will have achieved something better than immortality — joy.
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