I think about loneliness and accomplishment and courage ... Where does courage come from? I call my aunt in Israel. She is 92. And I ask her, "What is the most important thing?" And she answers, "Self-confidence."
Maira Kalman from, And the Pursuit of Happiness, in the New York Times today (Thanks, Mira)
I wonder why we reach back to our past memories so much as we get older. Has looking to the future become frightening to think about? Or is it to remind ourselves of who we were so that we can be sure of who we are now?
Today, I am 59 and eleven twelfths. In one month I turn 60. [My old/young friend, Donna, generously and supportively reminded me about that this morning!) These are the things I am beginning to understand about becoming a sixty-year-old-woman:
My ankle, hip, back hurt every now and again for no apparent reason. Sometimes I pop a couple of Advil and sometimes I do not. I live with it and it goes away. I don't let it stop me from walking briskly up and down the hills of Chestnut Hill, nor lifting my 8 pound dumb - bells.
Yoga stretches and pranayama exercises feel deep and comforting and spiritual. I sink into them like into a warm bubbly bath and pull their healing into my soul. When I am done, I feel like a lithe, young woman, and I stand as tall as five feet two inches (and shrinking) is able to reach.
When I love, it is with all my heart. I love Ada, my life partner, my son - I love the seasons, the sky, trees and flowers, squirrels, nut hatches, cardinals, robins serenading outside my window at 4:30 in the morning when I awake. I love the smells of spring, snow in the winter and the hottest summer days when sweat pours down my face, under my armpits and into my shirt. I sob uncontrollably when a hawk catches a bird from my feeder, when my son plays his music on the piano, or if while driving, suddenly I remember Charlie's eyes the last time we looked across the room at each other, or holding Mar-Mar in my arms as she took her final breath.
It is a relief to apologize and forgive. Anger has no excitement for me any longer. There is no time to bear grudges or hate someone these days. Lately, just as I am about to start feeling rage about anything at all, understanding and forgiveness seems to rise up in its place.
Passion feels real, and deeper than when I was young. Pain and compassion for the human condition is sometimes overwhelming in its forcefulness.
I enjoy alone time more than I ever have. The other night, when I was away in San Diego at a conference, I wandered alone for half an hour to find a Brazilian restaurant I had heard about. Sitting in the dim light, alone at my table, I felt an overwhelming sense of comfort and pleasure, enjoying the food, ambiance, deep red wine, music, and watching people coming and going, celebrating, sharing, eating, breaking bread together.
I adore the Internet - Skype, blogging, Facebook, Twitter, I-Phone, YouTube, connection through the anonymity and yet, oh so, public space of the Cyber/virtual world.
I feel the presence of Time in every thing I do, in each waking moment, and, even, threaded through my dreams. Tempus fugit. No more time to waste on regret, shame, guilt or greed. I pull myself back into here and now, and cherish what I can moments after disappointment or anxiety fill my emotional space.
Death often peeks over my shoulder, nudging me gently, even though I am not quite ready to confront it yet. I think that moving into my sixties means Death might move with me slowly from nudging and peeking towards a more prominent presence in the future.
There is more that I am beginning to understand about turning sixty - one month away today. Definitely more. For, I must admit that entering into my senior years is an exciting prospect, rich with change and deepening of understanding, even as it is accompanied by trepidation about reaching towards all the unknowns that come with aging ...
... unknowns, because I, personally, have never experienced aging before.
A couple of days ago, I wrote this in a letter to a friend:
While on my morning walk it occurred to me, that what hurts
me makes me stronger.Although it
was in the context of my sensitive ankle on a brisk 4-mile walk up and down the
hills of Chestnut Hill in the glorious sunshine, it had meaning for me about my
emotional life as well.
Thirty seven days until I turn sixty. My friend Hugh says that it is not so bad. He did it and survived! Pretty well too. I remember when I turned fifty I was amazed that the next day I awoke to find I was still the same old me! I guess that will be the same the day after I turn sixty - except for one or two new and different aches and pains. In fact, I feel quite excited about the whole thing. I have been arranging a number of events with various and sundry old friends I love, and quite a bit of travel for work and play around that time. I figure, well, there is no time like the present. I am gathering rosebuds, if I may ...
I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it. Harry Truman (From CCIE)
Turning sixty is just 45 days away, and it is looming large for me right now. I cannot believe that I am privileged enough to be about to achieve such a grand old age. It seems substantial and, oh so mature! It feels grander than when I turned 50. Indeed, I was just a mere piddly squeak back then compared to how I have grown (groan?), and all I have managed to accomplish personally and professionally these past ten years.
And so, I have decided to count down until the big day - the very moment my body, mind, and soul enters my sixtieth birthday - on May 24 this year. On that day I will be in Paris, accompanied by life partner, my son, and mother-in-law. One of my best friends is planning to take a train from Italy to join in the festivities, which will most certainly include the imbibing of a gateau - Mille-feuille, to be exact. We have been planning this for some time since Paris is one of my favorite cities in the world, and I was first introduced to the Mille-feuille by my step-mother when I was a small child growing up in Africa. She would dress me up like a pretty little doll and take me out to one of Bulawayo's department stores, Haddon & Sly.
I would sit quietly watching my step-mother closely as she dressed herself with great care, slipping hairpins into the neat roll she created around the bottom edge of her blue-silver tinted hair. After donning her beige colored gloves, we would drive off together into the town for our outing. I cannot remember what we did at Haddon & Sly except for the times we would visit the store's tea-room for tea and cakes - and, usually Mille-feuille was among them. I would sit at the table politely making sure to be on my very best behavior.
I remember feeling almost as if I was being initiated into some type of aristocratic, sophisticated world meant for other people - everyone else, that is, except me. It was like some kind of lucky fluke that I was even allowed to participate in it for a brief moment. I understood that I would have to keep very quiet, not fidget or make any unnecessary movement in my seat, and eat my cake ever so carefully until each crumb was cleaned off the plate and into my hungry little mouth. I probably could have eaten sixteen of them one after another. They were so delicate and petite, and so completely delicious - expert flaky pastry, creamy custard filling and elegant powdered sugar frosting the top. I was always so proud not to allow one tiniest drop of the powdered sugar to fall onto the table cloth, or more importantly, onto my clothes. My step-mother would have hated that, and I feared her wrath considerably.
I do not have very many vivid memories of my childhood. In fact, when I do try to think back it all seems colored in gray - quite dark actually. And I remember being afraid most of the time - afraid of anything and everything. Indeed, I have spent my life working hard to allow light and sunshine in to bathe and warm my soul.
As my count down to sixty begins, I imagine sitting in a cafe in Paris, accompanied by people I love, all partaking in an early childhood memory with me, as we munch on as many mille-feuilles we care to eat!
If I have learned anything from Anne Lamott it is that writing is writing, no matter if it sounds like mere ramblings about cafeteria lunches or a well thought out, greatly tuned 500 page novel. We all need to be given opportunities to write unedited. I believe if people always censor their writing and their thoughts, "bad" ideas will never have the opportunity to flourish into wonderful insights and beautiful writing. [Cara, graduate student]