There are so many ways to age. I had no idea of course, when waking hours were filled with occupation and everything else was crammed into living and getting through. “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”*
And then, when I knew I was tiring, the gears got switched and I was into something else, this territory of Eldering. By this time I had noticed the creaky limbs and sometimes nodding off at the oddest of times and that my energy level from the gogogo years had somehow gonegonegone. I started to worry about the occasional blank word or name that couldn’t be found in my memory bank and in the morning mirror I saw a face that only vaguely resembled the one I expected to be looking back at me.
There was the painful first use of a “senior discount”. More painful still was (is) being talked down to as my grey head acts as a beacon yelling “Old person here!” despite my internal views to the contrary. Physicians, grocery checkout clerks, waitpersons have all had previously negative experiences with the likes of me, even if it wasn’t actually ME.
I have begun to understand old age “cranky”: the joints that zing unexpectedly, the-way-too-inconvenient searches for a bathroom away from the house, and impatience with the lack of being heard or seen, but those are trifles next to the loss of friends and companions.
What I didn’t suspect was the treasure that lay in the midst of these challenges. A great opening, an expansive freeing spirit from so many things I believed were “me”. Kindness, compassion, patience suddenly began to appear at the oddest times, filling the moments. Conscious awareness found room to show up occasionally and the picture began getting bigger, a panoramic effect allowing a deeper, longer breath. While I cannot move as fast as I once did, slow movement allows opportunities for taking in what lies around me.
We won’t all age the same way and a number of us won’t get to age at all but tucked under a slew of stereotypes are ways of seeing and knowing I hadn’t imagined. Just wait, you’ll see.
*John Lennon. “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”.
Just Life: Variations on a Theme.
For a long time I have been troubled by what I perceived as a divide between my neighbors or friends who live lives that I relate to and respect. It was when we “talked politics” that what seemed like insurmountable divides arose and we ceased talking with one another or ceased seriously talking about matters dear to us because it was simply too painful. I always knew however that if an emergency arose, if there were reasons that we needed to pull together in a time of trouble, those friends and neighbors would be there pitching in.
There are divisions, they just aren’t distributed along the lines we are told they are. Red/Blue. Conservative/Liberal: the divisions reported so often in the media fall into those categories because the media covers those who have much to gain identifying with those labels. Media seems primarily interested in those with power and money or those striving for them. Many of the rest of us are not particularly interested in living that kind of life.
“Family Values” used to be a slogan for conservative political beliefs but even way back then I found myself annoyed that a political group had seemed to usurp a term that I related to even though I would never describe my political beliefs as leaning to the right. Right. Left. Yet another set of divisional boundaries. To me “values” meant caring, meant having a set of internal beliefs and purpose, an internal compass guiding action. “Values” was often in slogans used by religious individuals or groups, but to me religion did not have much to do with it. I felt my life had been lived by my sense of internal values not connected to “religion” which I did not have. Now it seems as if the groups have changed, the slogans have changed, and the term “Family Values” has been flipped on its ear.
Recently I viewed this video which popped up online. It is not political or religious but it gets to the heart of what I am trying to express.
Jay Shetty Video
“It’s about who they are and how they treat you.”
I cannot sew. Even when I learned to be adept with needles they were the large ones used for knitting.
Now, when arthritis has made all needles impossible, I find I am needing to make a quilt. This is psychological work not handcraft. The pieces of my life have felt fractured; disjointed; not part of a whole but disparate pieces scattered, my history, my adaptations over time, myself as constructed in moves made necessary by circumstances. These scattered pieces involve geographies and personal relationships. Quilt blocks: urban, small town, rural—each had a part. Marriage, motherhood, single woman—each had a part. Weaver, gardener, cook, photographer, writer—each had a part. These blocks occupy my memory floating as distinct pieces but what I am now recognizing is eldering is a time to patchwork these pieces into a life quilt which requires connector work, a way of restructuring the pieces of my past and present by gathering them in patterns, making beauty, pain, and purpose into a whole.
A friend passed along a forecasting tool designed to illustrate future sea level changes in coastal United States. It is a quite interesting interactive map worthy of exploration time. While there is good science behind its making, I don’t think changes that are forthcoming will work out exactly as this tool suggests, even though I think the visualizations that the tool provides may help.
I’ve only been living next to the wild ocean for two and a half years yet in that short expanse of time we’ve had a few storms that suggest to me that predicted changes will not come in an orderly or predictable manner. It’s my observation that there have been a few storms in my time here that hint of what kind of weather and climate changes might be in store. An October storm produced 70 mph winds out of the SSE, an unusual direction for such ferocity. This storm took down massive trees–oaks and maples–which had withstood many years of storms. My thoughts were that these trees had adapted their defense mechanisms of root and limb growth to the nor’easters and to the prevailing westerly winds of the Northeast. What took these trees down, it seemed to me, was that the fierce winds of the October storm came from a direction that did not normally produce a threat and those strong old trees were not prepared so they went down. It took six days to clear the roads of power lines and debris of tree bodies and parts-of-tree bodies that were everywhere.
A year ago in March New England and many parts of the Northeast experienced four nor’easters on a row. One of them was a particularly nasty storm but I think it was the collective power of storm after storm which did the real damage, both physically and psychologically. As some experts forecast, it is the ferocity of weather which is amping up at the same time becoming more erratic. As I played with the variations possible with this online coastline change predictor, I visualized storm damage that could alter how we feel about our beloved landscapes, turning what is familiar into an alien landscapes. Places which have been denuded of trees, by fire or tornados for example, alter these landscapes with changes that will last for years or even forever. Such drastic alterations change our personal relationships to the land. Communities are re-formed with loss a constant theme for both those who go and those who stay.
Humans continue to build housing along our shorelines as close to the water as they can, which is understandable considering how many of us are pulled toward water and especially oceans. If the magnitude of destructive storms and resulting financial loss ramps up it it is possible that our what has been our deep attraction may evolve into fear. What happens when places we thought of as safe havens become highly dangerous? What happens to us after we experience the imaginable? Think Hurricane Sandy and NY/NJ. Think Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico. Think Paradise, CA.
Let me pile on one with another one of my possibly hair-brained theories, this one particularly anecdotal. Many years ago when living in Northeastern Vermont, I noticed there seemed to be to be a correlation between fierce weather (particularly in the form of wild winter snowstorms) and surges of psychologically/emotionally negative outbursts among friends and family. One winter in particular seemed filled with extremes on both weather and psychological fronts and I felt there was a link between the internal and external storms. Did emotional and physical climates mirror each other? Correlation? Causation? There is zero science here but if my long ago observation has any validity, the current pitched emotional climate in this country (and in the world) might mean that we could be in for a truly rough and unprecedented ride in our coming weather conditions, thus confirming the worst of our climate change fears.
Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Predictor: