While exercising at the gym yesterday, just outside the window I noticed a small maple…its bowed branch displaying a splash of red and orange, an advance sign of fall. At that same moment in parallel, I flashed to the previous weekend celebrating my partner’s 75th trip around the sun and entry into the autumn season of his life.
I will ride his coat tails into this next phase of existence, incredulous, realizing I personally will count seven decades in the fall of 2019.
Seems our numbers…seventy and seventy-five…crept up suddenly, spooked and stunned me into consciousness. As tho the billions of cross links, neurons and synapses in my anesthetized brain integrated at once, I was suddenly aware…at a mind, heart and soul level…there are distinctly fewer years ahead of me than behind.
These autumn years differ from all others. Life is more pronounced, in focus…..clarity on what matters and what does not becomes undoubtedly obvious. As time available squeezes into a funnel of fewer days, the challenge is to be more selective and discerning in regard to how to spend your time….and who you prefer to spend it with.
This time of life is a time of contrasts.
I find I spend more moments quiet, in soft reflection….sorting memories, reticent, asking questions: How have I shown up in this life? Have I been kind enough, open enough, authentic enough….given enough of myself, made a difference? Contemplating….what is left to say, to do, to see, to try…to talk about, to think about, to write about? Acknowledging loss…..envying the youthful faces/legs/bodies of young women, agitated by knees/fingers/toes that don’t bend as well or move as nimbly, eyes that don’t see as well, thoughts that don’t come as fast.
And…then there are the gifts.
With children grown, work at a trickle…there is time to pause….internalize gratitude, create a mindful list….extending it further each day….savoring the images of gratefulness. It presents the opportunity to slow down enough to be present, make a vigilant effort to remain in the now….embracing the freedom to try something new, make time with friends, have play dates, travel….or just be.
I would count last week as one of those precious gifts.
We rented a lake house.
I have always been drawn to the ocean….still am….with my thick slice of introversion preferring the beach all to myself….preferably in the midst of winter….shared only with gulls, shells, gentle wave sounds and stretches of uninhabited sand. However…I have developed a new appreciation for the morning mystical stillness of bound water as the sun initially peeks, then boldly appears on the horizon; or the delightful sounds of the peeping osprey, the soaring of a majestic eagle, the heart-piercing cry of a loon, or the sight of deer peering from deep in the wood….all newly discovered rewards of lake-living.
The added bonus and what has become the encompassing purpose for almost any occasion now in life….is spending and sharing time with family. Again, driven by the recognition of aging, the desire to commune and connect with the people I love most overrides all other wants and needs.
First….we have two adult sons who rock our world. I won’t embarrass myself in a gushing attempt to express the depth, breadth and width of the love I have for them. It is boundless. Suffice to say, when I am around them, interacting with them, investing time in them….it rivals whatever my image of heaven might be. My youngest son’s partner was gratefully added to the mix in the last five years….and along with the pleasant addition of a second female into our inner circle…..she is beyond my wildest dreams the woman I would have hand-picked if it had been up to me. She adds an additional layer of heart, mind, soul and spirit to an existing circle of love.
To make work schedules align and have a full week of immediate family….priceless.
At the beginning of the lake week, we included a couple who are close friends of our son and his partner. The connection was immediately playful, interesting, inclusive and intimate. Later in the week, a surprise gathering for the birthday brought to the lake over twenty-five friends spanning five to forty-plus years….and the viewing of a video including clips from friends all over the country, with images spanning a life time of memory and friendship. The symbiotic energy of the evening….and the entire week…..mingled with emotional and physical embracing, the camaraderie and closeness…..all indicative of a family of choice.Within this chosen family, I consider some of the men “brothers”, the women close and dear “sisters”. We easily laugh together, share our cherished stories, seek input or advise and long to be in each other’s presence. We vacation together, celebrate the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year holidays, a graduation, wedding, birthday or other special event. We connect by phone, by card or letter, by email, by text, over dinner, on Facebook, in person. We show up at the funerals of loved ones, help sort through concerns and fears, share our joys…and tears….with one another.
We are clan. We are tribe. We are family.
As we merge into the harvest years of our lives ….work, titles, possessions, acquiring, consuming….become of little import.
We seek comfort….enough dollars to pay the bills, stock the refrigerator….and a little left over for an occasional Portland restaurant and a summer and winter vacation….with an eagerness and passion for creating community…bringing together as many of the people we love as possible.
Whether spending time with our immediate family, a couple we adore, another family we cherish or a group we treasure….it is always a rich experience of abundance for my soul.
Family is precious….and it does not have to be defined by the communal blood running in our veins.
My Dad in his later years would say, “nothing is more important than family.” Although family has always been significant to me, I am not sure I totally understood what he was attempting to convey until now.
When all else is stripped away….when we reach the final few decades of our lives….and eventually those final days and moments of existence on this earth….connection with others, creating community and concentric circles of “family” is what will sustain, feed us and deliver us to what….is next….
Family….in its many facets and forms….is indeed….all we need.