“The trouble is that old age is not interesting until one gets there, a foreign country with an unknown language to the young, and even to the middle-aged.” – May Sarton
Months ago, I altered the name of my blog. No longer ‘approaching‘ 70…my blog title required an adjustment.
As of this November, I will be just eight years shy of 80!
How can this possibly be?
Admittedly, there are moments when truth seeps through my rigid denial.
I notice more prominent, purple veins swelling on my hands, and brown age spots appear to multiply while I sleep. My running days are over, my walking takes more effort. Every joint in my body aches. My former 20/20 vision requires cataract surgery this year. I struggle to remember names I should easily recall, have difficulty rising from a chair and climb stairs clutching the railing. I take multiple medications for the first time in my life. My calendar has more doctor visits than social engagements.
Yet….I am more content, confident, relaxed…. more at ease with myself. In my mind, I remain decades younger than my given age. I hear these sentiments as well from other women friends in their 60’s and 70’s.
Most of us still working do so because it is our desire, because we enjoy what we do, and not necessarily because we have to. And if we do work, we work less. We have time to stretch our meditation or yoga practice to twenty or thirty minute intervals…truly relax into our breath…versus the rushed 5 or 10 minutes jammed into the frantic rush that was our life.
Friends my age are leisurely tending their gardens, reading voraciously, enjoying their grandkids, kayaking along the Maine coast in the middle of the week, sleeping-in when they please, vacationing more frequently or for extended periods of time. A few are writing books. Some are exploring their creative side in pastels or fabric art, gourmet cooking, photography.
Most find ways to stretch their social security check and IRA’s to meet daily needs, with money left over for leisure activities….all hopeful the accumulated stash outlives their mortality.
Friends are also, sadly, burying older family members, close friends, and life partners. Some are recuperating from unanticipated surgery or a cancer diagnosis. Others are caring for severely ill parents, ailing spouses…or are babysitting grandchildren to assist their adult children struggling with the overwhelming cost of childcare.
This period of life is a study in extremes.
It is a time of great joy….and ambivalence.
Of freedom and burden.
Of gain and loss.
A friend has invited me to join her newly forming ‘Women and Aging’ group. The timing is perfect. I feel an interest, almost an urgency, to explore the barrage of emotions and new insights I’ve been wrestling with. We begin in October with women between the ages of 60 and 85, gathering via Zoom. In preparation for our discussions and processing, we have been requested to read, ‘Women Rowing North” by Mary Pipher. You may have read her bestseller years ago, “Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Lives of Adolescent Girls”.
I began the assigned reading while on vacation last week. I was hooked by the first line in the first chapter: “There are many lifetimes in a lifetime.”
Think about that.
I have lived multiple lifetimes: childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle-age….and NOW. Each stage internalized with its gifts, and its pain. Each stage distinct, would not recognize the other. Each “self” differs completely. Each ‘self’ learning and growing from processing the experiences and challenges of the preceding lifetime. The author challenges us to explore ourselves through an honest asking: Did I make good use of my time and talents? Am I now? Was I loved? Am I now? What is my place in the universe? Profound questions to ponder.
The ‘now’ stage is unique. It allows for time and space to recollect, reflect, appreciate, perhaps shift long-held beliefs as we open to the accumulated data of decades. As seniors, we are offered the potential for personal authenticity…a chance to really know ourselves, forgive ourselves, love ourselves. It is our final stage, our last opportunity to get it right.
Pipher also writes…”we elders must maintain clarity about the kind of women we want to be”.
I continually revisit this thought.
Perhaps acknowledging the short runway in front of me, I have become more honest with myself. I own more of my ‘dark side’. I know I can be judgmental, easily injured by the behaviors of others, prone to withdraw when experiencing emotional pain, minimize my needs and accommodate others. I have not always handled myself well when I am hurt or angry. Although I love the depth to which I experience emotion, at times my emotions overwhelm. I have less tolerance for these unhealthy behaviors I deem unbecoming the woman I desire to become. I check myself more frequently to assess my authenticity.
I seek relationships with women I trust….those who are comfortable sharing their stories, expressing their vulnerabilities, who openly process their flaws and request feedback, who own their improper behaviors apologizing when appropriate and celebrate with abandon their accomplishments and moments of happiness. Through these precious relationships I learn, change, grow. Openly expressing our love of one another we simultaneously, with tenderness, hold a mirror to our blind spots. There is a mutuality, a loving contract of honesty and desire for personal growth that we share. I am confident the upcoming “Women and Aging” group will embrace this powerful, limitless protocol.
Quoting Pipher again, “until we understand how short life is, many of us make the mistake that our routines will go on forever, but after our awakening, we realize we’ve taken far too much for granted. We only have left a finite number of full moons, spring mornings, and nights out on the town.”
Time is running short. Live the best life you can muster…totally woke….and to the fullest.