Although it seemed unlikely, Audrey was my friend.
You see, Audrey was practically quadriplegic, old, gray, swollen, bent, and beaten down from the ravages of her own immune system that was slowly dismantling her nervous system. Audrey was living with MS - Multiple Sclerosis. She had a little movement remaining in her left hand (the only limb she could move) and could control the joystick of her wheelchair and thus cruise the halls of her nursing home. Her mind was still sharp, and she became the voice for many of the other residents who were not as fortunate as she.
Imagine not being as fortunate as Audrey.
Audrey rarely complained despite the pain she endured, and it was her humor and smile that was most visible. She was fond of pointing out the certificate on her wall that read, "Good for one free visit" and signed by Jack Kevorkian (the doctor known for helping the terminally ill commit suicide).
During one of our many enjoyable conversations, she suddenly changed the subject and asked, "You know what I miss the most, being in this condition?" My mind whirled at all the possible answers - could it be loss of independence and mobility, using a bathroom rather than submitting to the humiliation of having someone change your diaper, being able to taste your food, sex, scratching an itch? "What?" I finally asked, being unable to prioritize any of the possibilities. "Being able to take a deep breath," she replied. I was floored - the simplest thing, that anyone can do, and that everyone does without a second thought - this was what she missed the most. My eyes were opened in that instant, and I saw how lucky I was, how lucky we all are, to be alive, to actually command our chest muscles to move and fill our lungs with life-sustaining air. How much we all take for granted!
Later that night, as I lay in bed thinking of what she had said, I took that deliberate deep breath, relished it, felt it charge my whole being, and I vowed never to forget the lesson, the gift I had been given. Audrey died from MS, and I lost my friend, but many a night when my head hits the pillow, I take a deliberate deep breath, embrace that subtle pleasure of living, and say a quiet "Thank you, Audrey" for teaching me how little I need to be happy.