Give life enough time and it breaks us all



“Janet,” one of my readers, can no longer read. That means she can no longer handwrite letters like the ones she has been sending to me for the past three or four years.

Hers were the only personal letters I have received this century. She prefers the intimacy of stationery, stamps and envelopes. Not only that, she doesn’t own a computer.

She lives alone in Franktown and doesn’t get around much anymore because of her age, the coronavirus, and now this.

Janet left a long, poignant phone message, and implored me not to think of the ramifications of being almost sightless.

Of course, that’s an impossibility.

I first heard about Helen Keller when I was in grade school. Later Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder, who was first called “Little” Stevie Wonder.

In seventh grade, my music teacher told us Beethoven was totally deaf by the age of 44 or 45, but continued to compose music.

There have been a number of individuals limited in one way or another who have accomplished extraordinary things. In particular, I am still amazed by Keller. She was the first deaf-blind person to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree.

In the final months of my father’s life, he was unable to eat, drink, walk or talk. My sister and I had Power of Medical, but he took it away from us and insisted on a stomach port and a feeding tube.

They didn’t work.

His will to live was something to behold. It was unbearable to behold.

Janet is still able to hear. A friend is reading my columns to her. This also means she can listen to music.

Nietzsche said, “Without music, life would be a mistake.”

There are recorded books but Janet may not be interested. Her call left the impression that her loss of sight had affected her enthusiasm for living.

As a writer, the inability for me to write would be unacceptable.

Then, I hear about how Stephen Hawking communicated, eventually by using a single cheek muscle.

Sure, Janet could dictate. It wouldn’t be the same, but it would be better than nothing? Or would it?

It would be almost impossible, given the way I think, somewhat haphazardly, to dictate a column to someone who, inevitably and understandably, would want to strangle me.

Janet’s letters were in-depth and welcome critical reviews of my columns. She always noted my references, my wording, my humor (or attempts).

We’ve all witnessed the consequences of a long life — Janet is Level Eight — with ourselves, family members, or friends. And, of course, pets.

After a recent column about Harry and his life expectancy, I heard from readers who understood. Right now, safe-at-home, without Harry, life with or without music would be a mistake.

One of my doctors told me to disregard “old age” and think in terms of “Levels.” If you’re 30, you’re Level Three. Forty, Level Four.

The mirror knows better, doesn’t it?

My high school English teacher is Level Eight. She’s falling apart, she says. I told her Olivia de Havilland reached Level Ten.

My high school English teacher said, “No, no, no.”

(Keller was closing in on Level Nine when she died.)

Oh, Janet. I’m sorry. In your message you encouraged me to continue what I have been doing. I will and a thought of you will be in every column.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at


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