One of the mixed blessings of living across the hall is the constant reminder of the down-hill slide of aging. The reminders come in many forms. It makes me tired just watching daughter Kate and son-in-law Marton chase after two active wee ones while working or dealing with graduate school, all with too little sleep. I did it, but couldn’t possibly manage it anymore.
Then there’s three-year-old Leila who is so at home in her body. She is athletic and adventuresome, graceful and confident. What a contrast to my awareness of the need to be careful going up and down stairs. And she has questions: “Amma, what’s that?” pointing to a wrinkle or a varicose vein on my leg.
So why would I call it a mixed blessing rather than just a curse? Probably because I sense there is some gift in all of this loss of stamina, all these signs of an aging body.
Last summer Bill and I took a landscape photography class in Donegal, Ireland. We were taken to countless old wrecks, some all the way ashore, some still in water. At first I didn’t get it. Why would we want to take pictures of these beat up old things?
As we were coached in taking pictures from different angles and in different lights, I began to see the beauty. Some wrecks were worn down to their skeletons. We could see the graceful arc of their bones, often reflected in water. Some just had holes here and there through which one could catch glimpses of sky or out of which grasses and wildflowers peeked.
I have to say that after a while I felt a certain kinship with these wrecks. It’s not so much that I see myself as washed up just yet – even though clearly that’s where it’s headed sooner or later. It’s more that with age is coming a decrease in the need to look good or perform in a certain way — a concern with being over doing. The wrecks just stand there as they are. Their history is written all over them and there is a beauty in that. I’d like to stand as unembarrassed as they do. That would be a terrific gift of aging.
Maybe the blessing in being so reminded of my aging is the invitation to uncover and enjoy all its gifts. Less stamina has enabled more reflection time. Sometimes I just sit and watch what goes on around me. Sometimes I’m just gathering wool, letting memories of the past come up and wash over me. These memories, though, are starting to form an integrated whole that I can choose to either judge or appreciate.
Lately I’ve been trying to go more with appreciation – of what was and especially of what is.
Another gift of aging for me has been a slow lessening of attachment to things like having a house or living in one certain circumstance over another. There have been wonderful things as well as hard things about each place we’ve lived. I don’t get so worried about things changing as I used to. Of course things will change. And it will be an adventure. Adventures have their ups and downs, their scary and painful moments, but there’s always something new to learn.
All of this puts me in mind of a Hunter Thompson quote that brings me a fun kind of comfort: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow!'”
That’s how I want to go out.
What gifts have you found in becoming an old wreck?