My high school buddies printed that adjective under my senior picture in our 1967 yearbook. I more or less knew what it meant, something like zippy or peppy, which fit since I’d been a cheerleader for four years. Even last year at age 68, I popped out of my seat at a party and began to boogie the instant I heard the first notes of Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl,” also from 1967.
My mother, then 91, watched me hop until right after “laughing and a-running, hey, hey, skipping and a-jumping,” then pursed her lips, pointed her finger and scolded, “Susan, SIT. Quiet down!”
She flashed me what I’ve dubbed “the look” – those tight eyes and pulled-in cheeks – and I bopped out of her sight. Later, since I live with buoyant spirit, I looked up “effervescent:” bubbling, vibrant, sparkling.
Those too made sense, not as in flashing pasted-on grins with a jovial, back-slapping, fake how-d’ya-do. Rather I like that I have a spark. Truth: We all have an interior liveliness that breathes in each of us distinctly.
Mine? For sure, I don’t feel jazzed with the same get-up-and-go that I had as I sprang up and down in my blue and gold uniform, gesticulating to our rousing school song. The inner dance moves to a softer beat now. But I can still sense joy and tingling, as when my sunny 3-year-old granddaughter Brooke finished her macaroni and cheese and bragged, “beat ya.'”
I laughed. “Was lunch a race?”
Brooke beamed a twinkly “yip.”
A glittery grin glowed deep in my solar plexus.
Sometimes I ask, “where did my bounce go?” Sometimes my pal Jo calls me “barometrically aligned;” that is, dragging in summer heat, haze and 100 percent humidity. Sometimes a dull ache douses any natural oomph: I sag when a friend says her 13-year-old Westie now limps and doesn’t bark or eat much anymore. Sometimes I forget that central vitality, because in some moments my mind fixates on my “diminishments,” as French philosopher Teilhard de Chardin called our experiences in aging, slower mind, stiffer body.
But today, knowing we can perk up after a 3-year-old’s “yip,” I shone, a year after my 50th high school reunion.
The life force inhabits us. We don’t have to ignite it; it’s already lit, often clear, sometimes veiled. To know our natural vigor, then, can we learn to turn toward how it expresses in us, to contact its unique qualities, to touch into its individual aspects? Since essence lives in each of us, we don’t have to create it: we need to feel it. Simple. Not easy.
I don’t like the part of me that imagines every now and then that the flame no longer flickers. Not so: embers glow. Often I visit a home where we might label the residents “old.” Many blank-stare into nothing, some with legs too limp to walk, others with arms too frail to move their wheelchairs. One could easily assume that their flair, or flare, had extinguished.
But if I meet them eye-to-eye, look beyond their cold purple-veined hands, and greet them with smiles and interest, I notice their warmth. If I try to find what poet Jan Richardson calls the “shimmers within the storm, ” I see hidden vibrancy. They joke. They giggle. Some hold hands. If I intend to view what is alive in them, I gain new eyes. Whether I glimpse brightness or not – in them, in me –hinges on how and where I focus.
Maybe our interior cheerleader never dies, although the skipping and a-jumping might stop. Perhaps instead our effervescence one day merely ditches the pom-poms, then swirls, whirls and twirls a little less gymnastically, and quiets down a bit.
Still, I won’t sit through “Brown-Eyed Girl.”
Susan Lebel Young