I make it a particular point of pride to avoid being late meeting anyone 100 years of age and older. So there was reason for amplified anxiety as my wife and I sat in one of Montreal's now-routine 45-minute traffic jams on Sunday afternoon.
Yet there we were, immobilized on an off-ramp of Highway 20, trying to make our way down a detour while Lucille (Lou) Pacaud awaited us downtown. Lou turned 105 in August. Even the digital clock in the dashboard seemed to be ticking too loudly.
"I'm glad you called to say you'd be late," she laughed when we arrived at Fulford House where she lives. "It's not a good idea to count on me being here."
She was being ironic, intending the teasing to be taken existentially, though it could as easily have been understood geographically. Lou is famous at Fulford House, I am told, for grabbing her walker and nipping up to Ste. Catherine Street to go shopping without bothering to let care staff know.
"I've always done things for myself," she said as we settled down to chat in a large, sunny sitting room on the second floor of the mid-Victorian house built for the first Anglican bishop of Montreal. "I'm not going to stop now."
Such "unstoppability" is among the reasons my wife and I were there to interview and photograph her for the book we're doing on 15 Quebecers whose lives testify to the power of committing to the days available to us. Our subjects aren't celebrities, but ordinary souls living fully the gift of life itself. Or as Lou put it with perfect succinctness: "I don't think of my age as extraordinary. You just get up every day, do your work, have fun—I always have fun—and suddenly you're 105."
Suddenly, you're 105. There was—is—both musicality and mystery in the very matter-of-factness of her words. It's not just the matter of longevity, of chronological durability. It is the spiritual triumph of the day as the locus of earthly existence. As Philip Larkin put it so beautifully in Days:
What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?
Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.
These days, thanks to the usual suspects from political ki-yiiing to celebrity culture to ubiquitous e-gadgets, we spend days like pocket change from an inexhaustible bedside jar of nickels, dimes, and quarters. We kvetch about the traffic jams that waste our time—time in the universal and abstract. How much do any of us, any more, treasure the concrete particular of days themselves? How many of us ever think to ask the question posed by the immortal G.K. Chesterton:
"Here ends another day, during which I have had eyes, ears, hands and the great world around me. Tomorrow begins another day. Why am I allowed two?"
Or as Someone Else once said: "Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.
One minute you're immobilized in traffic with the digital clock ticking. Suddenly you're 105. And how many days in all that time did you actually live?