#101 Deep Quiet

Deep Quiet.

What can be said for falling
into the farthest back folds of your closet
the place where silence reigns?

How is it possible to live day after day
saying only “Good Morning” with as much warmth and kindness as you can muster, then later “Thanks for bringing in the package”, eight words in an entire day while a stream of words run a constant presence in your brain but never leaves your mouth?

In this time of social distancing, of staying inside to remain safe and healthy
for over three months, is finding the daily isolation a bit too comforting? Is relishing the lack of face to face interchange, relinquishing the sound of words to the silent controlled realm of the keyboard, using words only when you have a handy “delete” function if you say too much or are a tad too honest, keeping everything upbeat and never discussing the darkness that lurks from all the edges, where you really want to be?

I walked a little at the re-opened park a mile or two away, where families returning to the normalcy of pizza boxes and blankets were sharing weeknight take out dinners or picnics, laughing together. The park, always a place of solace, made now ever so precious after the barriers and “Closed” signs came down. The families sat close together in household groupings while I moved around them, distanced, feeling the impact of my aloneness and isolation in contrast. During all these days of staying apart their being together for all this time was obvious. How had I become that lonely old woman walking unseen among the laughing clusters with an aching heart and gallons of unshed tears?

Is it a natural pairing, this aging and sliding away into our own company, shielding oneself from constant interaction, finding preference for solitude? If so, once again I am the outlier for I crave the warm presence of others, the interchange of observations of experience and difference, so while I’ve made use of the quiet, it does not fill me with joy.
Should it?

# 95 New Thoughts on the Future of Aging

New Thoughts on the Future of Aging.

If you stop to sit and think about Retirement, if you dive right down deep into ponder, purging your mind of numbers and stereotypes, it might strike you that Retirement is a rather strange concept. The idea of a hard work lifetime coming to an abrupt end at a magic number (you choose but the government has considerable sway) is beyond odd. In my last paid working years I pushed long past realistic capacity, becoming increasingly exhausted in my non-paid-work hours, when I wasn’t actually sleeping. I went from work to home chores, to sleep, and back up the following day, repeating endlessly. All-chore weekends were the norm. When opportunity knocked I was retired in a month, moved two states up and over and starting anew. It was akin to throwing the baby out with the bath water.

In this time of crisis the pause button has been pushed. It’s time for a rethink. Being older now means virus vulnerability. Our ranks are thinning disproportionately. If local, national, or global resources become thin our presence takes on furthered meanings—ice floe or a still contributing member of society?

During and after a pandemic what do we have to offer? For the past two years I’ve been working on Eldering and Building Community, giving me new purpose. In lifelong learning classes dynamic, talented, intelligent men and women were in states of new beginnings at a time I had thought this part of our lives was all about endings. Instead, we had landed on “generative” but where were the opportunities to apply what we had to offer? Our graying heads were talking among ourselves and it was illuminating and, perhaps, just a tad stagnant, although a lot of fun.

The ground has shifted. For the lean times ahead, in what ways can we be most useful? Already apparent are divisive signs where the aged are seen as takers not givers, users of resources rather than resources ourselves. If our backs are not strong enough for heavy pulling what then do we have to offer?

Don’t count on a moral high ground but don’t discount historical perspective. Divisions based on age and body soundness are not what will work for us now so we’d best be stepping up and using what we’ve learned in newly expansive ways. There is work to be done and many ways to do it. Think in the “Crisis=Opportunity” mode. Ditch the never-really-worked-anyway Retirement model. Transitioning, morphing, adapting have always been sound. Staying malleable, finding purpose, take what you know forward and on to new ground. Continue learning. Everyone has something to contribute. Consider yourself repurposed. 

# 92 Fear

Fear.

I caught my foot on a looped wire attached to the garage. It entangled my right foot so that my attempt at rebalancing failed. I went down. Hard. On tarmac. My yelling was as much a release as anything else. I was scared. Later, I realized that a fear of falling had been present in me for sometime. We all have one, a fear we are carrying that lies just below our waking consciousness and, like the shadow on the wall, this fear may be a magnification of something much smaller, which confronted, through experience or circumstance turns out to be quite different than we thought. Exposing the fear enlightens us, allows us to get to what we need to know.

Fear is a palatable part of daily existence in the time of this global pandemic. I am thinking about the zillions of ways it must be a working present in each of our lives. It might just be Step One in our healing—our awakening—process. 

After finally being righted (needing help to do this) shortly after the fall I felt the words “good will come of this” in my head. Years and years ago I recognized that falling is a healthy thing to do; it’s an indicator of our flexibility as landing from a fall shakes out what we need to loosen. Children fall frequently, popping back up like newly set bowling pins but as we get older our various rigidities begin to worm their way into our thoughts and into our bodies. I thought way back then I realized the secret was to continue to fall which would remind me to stay as flexible as possible,  but as serious aging moved in I stiffened with arthritis and fear became a part of me without my recognition. 

Our deepest fears are OUR deepest fears for good reasons. Mine are not yours and vice versa. In circumstances where we tap into the experience we get the gift of knowing, opening ourselves in needed ways. If this is so for our individual lives what then does it mean for our global humanity as we face the unknowns of a virus? What is the process of collective fear working its way out into awareness on this global level? 

Is it not a privilege to be present and part of what is being released? We are in a time of opportunity for learning, a time for being flexible rather than rigid, each one of us throughout the world, all of us at the same time.

# 77 Honoring the Women of OLLI

Honoring the Women of OLLI.

If we have spoken face-to-face or by phone  or via email in the last couple of years you have heard me gush about OLLI. There are a number of such lifelong learning programs throughout the country: Senior College, Elderhostel, and the Osher Institute of Lifelong Learning are three such programs. I found my way to the program in Portland where the offerings are broad and the people are fabulous, where OLLI has its own LEED gold star building, and the program was founded and funded by a native Maine philanthropist. There are OLLI programs throughout the country and they get raves everywhere.

No doubt my course choices (Consciousness, Aging, and Women’s Issues mostly) have led me to coming to know more women students than men and Oh! what women! (both students and instructors). Having the privilege of returning to school over age 50 brings out some of our best qualities; egos left outside the door; our ticking clocks  keeping us mindful and focused; the collective intelligence and vital inquisitiveness of the participants are all baseline.

Where there is joy there is also sorrow. I attended the service for one of the women I met in a fabulous class entitled Women & Aging that was offered a year ago. It is logical that given our age range (classes are free for those over 90) loss should be expected. Only it wasn’t. The depth of wisdom and intelligence of this particular woman made it a privilege to have known her in that context even though the class contact was defined and brief. I could write that about dozens of women with whom I’ve shared these classes and this woman would still stand out.

“Lifelong learning” is bedrock. Why did we ever think anything other? What is brilliant is taking this truth and giving it space and place and opportunity. This can be done in a formal setting like Senior College and it can be done in libraries and living rooms, in church basements, most anywhere there are numbers of retired people of active minds and deep conscience, people who have life experiences to share and longings to continue exploring.

The women (and men) I’ve met in these classes in these last two years have altered the path of my later life. I’ve been in school in one form or another since I was five and none of what came earlier was as richly rewarding as the expansiveness possible at this age and through these classes. To these wonderful women-and men-of OLLI, I give thanks.

And to Sally: Godspeed.

# 76 The Obvious

The Obvious.

Another ”Duh” moment has arrived. I was trying to figure out why I have kept one particular library book so long overdue. “I like this author”, I rationalized only then realizing in the past I have purchased her books while “forgetting” to read them or, like this time,  I’ve pushed past a library renewal due date while leaving the book abandoned and untouched on my bookshelf. “But she’s so clear, so succinct in shedding light on important issues of the day…” continued the swirl in my head, until it dawned on me that it does not feel good reading about hard world realities no matter how gifted the writer.

I then thought of my current tendency to binge watch series TV. I rationalize, thinking this is a temporarily distraction which allows my thoughts to escape into ease. I avoid dire. I cannot abide violent themes or films with protagonists with no redeeming character. I crave ”uplifting” and ”heartwarming”. I relish “overcoming” and gleefully immerse myself in stories where difficulties lessen as progress is made.

Lightbulb moment:  I watch or read things that allow me to feel good. ”Why is that?” I ask myself and the immediate, and obvious, comeback is that my aging body already hurts enough. Reading or watching stories containing pain and suffering pile emotional discomforts on to physical discomforts already present in sufficient amounts. Diverting attention toward things that feel good helps. Enormously.

Maybe a dash or two of “reality” reading or watching is enough, in the same way adding chili pepper flakes or jalapeños to food is sometimes worth a bit of gastric distress. Just not too much and not too often.

# 73 The Kindness of Strangers

The Kindness of Strangers.

It is simply amazing how much a day can be changed by a kind gesture, a smile, or someone helping out because they noticed. I now use a cane while out doing errands. It’s both worrisome and mortifying to be dependent on something that doubles as an “I’m old and need help” symbol. But it’s better than falling down. 

I had stopped at a local, large supermarket around 5:30 p.m., Grocery Store Rush Hour. The checkout lines were thick with pre-big-dinner holiday carts; the store’s ambience focused and purposeful. The groceries of a woman ahead of me in the checkout line were filling multiple bags. She turned to me and said “Could I put those (my few groceries) on the belt for you?” and then, much more easily able to reach my items than I, she did so.

A few minutes before I’d been looking up at a blank space where a particularly hard to find tea might have been on back of the very top shelf. At a loss as to  how to even check if it was up there so very far over my head, I looked up as a pro-basketball tall man was coming down the isle. “Could you”, I began pointing upward to the empty space as he handed over the box, his wife chuckling knowingly. 

As I plopped my groceries into the car, I was about to look for a return location for the empty cart when a passing shopper reached for it saying “Can I take that for you?”

In the space of fifteen minutes during the crush of a very busy time, three strangers gave assistance. I glowed on the drive home, a kindness recipient feeling very good about the world.

#59 Who Are We?

Who Are We?

The goal as I loosely perceived it was to spend the time I had left finding a way to incorporate my various versions of self in this lifetime. Your perception may hold that there is only one lifetime, your lifetime, whoosh start to finish, lived until no more, then you are gone. That’s it.  Mine says we live many lifetimes within each lifetime as well as many lifetimes over eons in non-linear time. From here, neither of us shall be able to prove it either way.

Aging is the time we get to settle, examine, choose, decide. I do believe in a very real way we are making this stuff up so we get to use this time, the parts of it when we aren’t distracted by hurting body parts that is, to work on this “project”, the one we call our life. Has yours turned out as you thought it would? Mine certainly has not.

Education, profession, geographies—these are just some of our external elements and these various elements provide a sort of a background or canvas where we play out our internal drivers–“personalities” or “traits” or whatever description works best. What did we come here to learn and who helped us along the way? The complexities seem dizzying yet if we can drill down into the essence, perhaps it’s not as complicated as we once thought. The privilege of aging gives us the chance to figure at least some of this out. Sometimes we have to go in minutely close and sometimes we have to go to the top of the mountain. Perspective is what we are after in every part we examine. Relationships are the color palette with which we play these things out and the ranges overflow — joy to sorrow, failure to success, satisfaction to longing.

Instead of judgement consider the spectrum. Consider the grace.