The gift of time.
I wonder if anyone really truly believes this. So easy to buy into the lie that life is like a racetrack, a seemingly endless series of laps, a delusion
fueled by a culture that worships youth and marginalizes its elders.
I remember rolling my eyes when my mother and her friends launched into a litany of aches, pains and funeral reviews. I vowed I would never allow my world to shrink so small, become so focused on myself. I would be involved with life – would have far more important things to think about.
But to my chagrin, I find myself actively participating in these conversations with my friends nowadays. It is, after all, what is happening to us. One more thing to add to my list of things I vowed I would never do.
What I hadn’t counted on about growing old is that nothing stays the
same for very long. Some days are full of hope and good fortune. I am brimming over with gratitude for my friends, my family, my reasonably good health. Other days it takes all the strength I can summon to put one foot in front of the other, to stay the course.
If we haven’t learned life lessons along the way, if we don’t have friends and loved ones around us, if we don’t have creative outlets that give us joy, God help us. Because the older we get, the larger the challenges, the bigger the losses, the less we control.
Living a successful old age is hard work, in my opinion. I need all the resources I can muster. But no matter what my situation, I am in charge of the path I take. I always have choices.
And in the final analysis, it’s not that the road ends, it’s where it ends that matters.
Lately I find myself thinking about death a lot. Not in a morbid sense, just reflecting on the reality of it. The necessity of death for the rebirth of spring. The triumph of spring over the desolation of winter.
I’m not afraid of death, exactly. I’m not eager for it, but it’s harder to “fit in” to the world around me now and I don’t want to outlive my expiration date. I’m just not finished yet, there is still more to do, more to be.
This surprises me. By now I expected to be wise, surefooted and content to sit placidly with a cat or two, awash in memories of a life well lived.
Guess not. Maybe in a year or two.
“Nobody sees a flower – really
it is so small it takes time –
we haven’t time –
and to see takes time,
like to have a friend takes time.”
Not so long ago, time stretched ahead in an endless ribbon winding out of sight to unlimited possibility and opportunity. There would always be time. To do more, have more, be more. Or ..to change course.
But the paths were one-way, constantly bifurcating. With each decision well reasoned or impetuous, other paths and their tributaries were lost to view. Still, there was more time, surely.
Then inevitably, imperceptibly, my path narrowed and led me here. Now the path ahead is straighter. There will be fewer opportunities, fewer choices. Each moment counts.
It’s time to take time.
Visiting Grandma by Felix Schlesinger
Lately I have become obsessed with my maternal ancestors. Not in a genealogical sense – I really don’t care whether I am related to anyone famous or have royal blood, and the proportion of my DNA originating in Scotland, Italy or England is of no interest to me. So I won’t be ordering the kit
It’s not the DNA, but the lives of these women that fascinate me. Since there was no birth control and children were valued as workers, it was not uncommon for women to have 10 or more surviving children; most lost at least one to sickness. Moreover, because of the physical demands on their bodies and lack of access to medical care, death in childbirth was common. Surviving husbands in need of help with their households remarried as quickly as they could, bringing their children with them, creating small communities. All of this in an environment facing epidemics of Yellow Fever, Tuberculosis, Typhoid Fever without antibiotics, immunizations or dentists. And don’t forget wars. One of my grandmothers (3rd great 1775-1824) lost a father and brother in a Tory raid and grandsons to the Civil War.
Life was tough. But they rose to the challenge, there was no other choice.
As I sit here in my air-conditioned living room, typing on my wireless laptop, drinking coffee from Columbia, it is almost impossible to imagine how my great grandmothers began their days. At my age, if she lived that long, she was likely living with a daughter and her family and if healthy enough, charged with the care of the smallest children and the family mending. Breakfast would have consisted of food raised on their farm or bartered with neighbors, and depending on their economic situation, could have ranged from sausage and eggs to corn mash. There was no radio, tv, household appliances or indoor plumbing. Access to books was limited, often to a worn copy of The Bible and most women never completed high school. Nearest neighbors were miles away and a letter could take a month to arrive.
Last week I had a melt-down over the internet service. Admittedly, it was stressful, maddening, and ate up most of the day. But really? Internet? This is a problem my grandmother could only have dreamed about.
My grandmothers were hardly saints, as I well know from family stories. I’m sure they complained about their hard lives. I could never agree with some of their beliefs, but they were women of strong convictions and the determination and courage to stand by them. The more I learn more about them, the more grateful I am for their examples and humbled by the grace with which they lived their difficult lives.
So the next time I’m tempted to go rogue over some minor discomfort, I plan to stop and consider what my grandmothers’ response might be.
I hope it’s in the genes.
Decadent chocolates, diamond bracelets, elaborate valentines cards. Young lovers gazing into each other’s eyes, dreaming of the perfect love.
A beautiful reminder that in a troubled world, that somehow, somewhere, there is always love.
But these images offer only a shallow glimpse of love. Oddly, we equate love with young love, with “being in love,” while overlooking the most beautiful love of all, that of old love. This is not the exhilarating flush of new love. It is the flame that flickers in the furious storm, yet leaps to warm the trembling heart.
Old love has seen glory and brokenness, trust and betrayal. It has known exhilaration and endured tedium. It has yielded to the warm
embrace and recoiled at the jagged word. Through it all, it was always love that soothed the chafing of the marital yoke.
The beauty of old love is not that of the unfurling rosebud. Like the facets of a diamond, this love is patiently sculpted and refined over years. It is nurtured by the light of understanding but withers in the darkness of anger. It flourishes on the rock of trust and crumbles on the shaky sands of deceit.
And old love is not merely finishing the race side by side. Such is only a sad counterfeit born of pride, cowardice or simple inertia. It is a lifetime of shared experiences, comfortable perhaps, but bereft of joy. The heart well knows the difference.
Old love is longing for the other and yet straining against the marital tether. It is knowing everything yet nothing about the other. It is melding into the other yet retaining oneself. It is freely sharing, families, children, sickness, possessions; all of it, all of life. It is unrelenting challenge; it is warm fulfillment. It is at once exhilarating and terrifying,
So to all young lovers this Valentine’s Day: Join us if you will. But know this: Old love must be earned. It will test your strength and challenge your resolve. It will require your best and forgive your worst. It will plumb your depths and expand your soul. And the rewards are beyond imagination for those who stay the course.
This blog is dedicated to my “old love” of 40 years. Happy Valentines Day, Sweetheart.