Letting go

It took me well into my seventies to finally, grudgingly, concede that yes: I was aging ..but not elderly.  Not yet.  After all, I could still swim a mile, keep up with the 40 year olds in my Yoga class – most of the time. My mental faculties seemed intact; I maintained a blog – played the piano – was at least as computer-savvy as my kids. My grandchildren were still in primary school – some of them anyway.

People said I looked young for my age.  I felt young.  To reinforce my mindset, movie stars, book authors and TV personalities offered endless advice about how they stayed young and beautiful, and therefore how anyone could.  Media ads inundated us with products guaranteed to make us into super-active, beautiful, deliriously happy retirees. Memory failing?  Arthritis pain?  Chronic fatigue?  Sexual malaise?  Pills for that, lots of them.  Wrinkles? Creams for that. Or surgery.  So what you’re a little “older.”  No worries.  There’s an App for that!

But there were these nagging signs, milestones, I couldn’t ignore. My husband’s failing eyesight now prevented him from driving; we were a one car family for the first time in our 40 year marriage.  Less than  half of my high school classmates were still alive, and many that were, lived with debilitating, often painful and humiliating  disease.   Lately friends had been insisting they had told me something; I just didn’t remember.  It was getting a little harder to walk apace my 40-something friends.  Gravity was making a frontal assault on key parts of my anatomy.  Walking in high heel shoes was high adventure.  Bedtime was getting earlier.  I needed a knee replacement.  

Unacceptable!    Clearly I had missed something: the right foods, supplements,  exercise, meditation technique.  Maybe I should go to a health spa, get some “work” done.  I’d talk to my longtime friend and confidant; we’d figure this out together, like we always did.  “Super-retirement”  or a reasonable facsimile thereof,  was surely possible.  I just needed a strategy.  

 But incredibly, my friend didn’t have a plan. In fact, she seemed not a little exasperated with me.  “Aging,” she told me with a sigh “is a process.   A process  of letting go”.

Not what I wanted to hear.  At. All.

In my gut I knew she was right, but I wasn’t ready to accept it. It was probably true for her, but it didn’t have to be that way for me.  I embarked on a  mission to “fix” the situation, to make my husband’s landing softer, to keep up with the 40 year olds at the gym, to make excuses for my forgetfulness, delay my surgery.   It was pretty ungraceful. It felt like holding my finger in a dike that threatened to crumble any minute. 

I’m not sure what life event eventually penetrated the thickly insulated layers of my denial. Probably it was a series of  little losses. A friend’s hospitalization, needing help with something that used to be routine, the growing number of medications in my pillbox.  It took what it took.  But slowly the stark light of reality broke through.  And surprisingly, it was not the downer I expected. It was a relief.

It took awhile, but these days I smile at the money grubbing commercials promising the fountain of youth in return for hard earned retirement dollars.  The famous personalities attributing the result of their cosmetic “work” to  exercise, good food, or their favorite potion.  Accept the door opened for me by the 30something. Do the exercise and eat the foods that work for me. Hang with my peers.  Admit I forgot – and make  notes. I’m no longer backing into the future.  I’ve found the shoes that fit and can finally move forward.

 Because letting go is not giving up, it’s just moving in a different direction. 

Daily Gratitude: HOPE

Today I am grateful for hope.  

It is hope that stills me, bars my descent into despair.  It is the bedrock that steadies me against the storms of confusion and anxiety.

     

Hope is the pathway to love, the balm for pain.

                                       It is the sister of trust,

the child of  faith.

                                                                                 Hope is the  promise of joy.

 

Daily Gratitude: Motherhood

Today I am grateful for motherhood; for my own mother, for the opportunity to be a mother, for the lessons learned.

Motherhood is the most challenging of relationships, diametrically opposed and inextricably linked. The older I am, the more I regret my unkindness to my own mother and the more forgiving I am of the unkindness of my children.  Maybe that’s just the way of things.

HOPE IS NOT QUARANTINED

In the early days of the pandemic, it was easier to stay hopeful.  After all, surely it would soon be over.  But as the days, weeks, months drag by, as our problems compound, it’s easy to become discouraged. But as Emily Dickinson reminds me in her beautiful poem, “Hope Is The Thing With Featuers,” hope is an inside job.

On the footpath where I walk in the mornings, people have begun leaving messages of hope painted on colorful stones.  As I walk by, my spirits are lifted by these small thoughtful gestures.  And they remind me  of all the goodness and beauty in my life. Hope is always there. I just have to look for it

HOPE IS THE THING WITH FEATHERS
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
                          Emily Dickinson, 1891

The beautiful photo was provided by my good friend Carlton, a master photographer.

The Road Ends

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.