This old wreck

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?

skeleton wreckAs 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. Continue reading

Reclaiming delight

My best teachers these days are my grandchildren. Since they range in age from one year up to twenty years, there is quite a range of what they have to teach.

The other night our eighteen-year-old granddaughter, Maddie, called to interview me for a project for school. She’s a freshman in college in her first year of nursing school. The assignment was for a psychology class and involved interviewing a grandparent about their life and the aging process. Her questions made me think a lot and drew things out of me that I hadn’t entirely claimed before.

When Maddie asked about the good parts of aging, I found myself saying that having more time to notice things and take joy in them was one of the very best things. The two grandchildren across the hall have been teaching me about that.

mateo in sunlight

Mateo, age one, laughs easily about the simplest things – peek-a-boo or sunbeams in his face. He teaches me to be silly again – to make funny faces and funny noises and then to laugh at them. It brings back memories of my own grandmother, Martha, playing with me and even more so playing with my children. The older Martha got the sillier she got. I start to realize that all this being so serious and adult all the time really stifles the little kid still trying to live inside of me. Continue reading

On the road to 1 divorce, 2 marriages, 3 bikes, 4 seats, 1,800 miles

In response to our post about getting rid of the car, Danish friend Ernst Poulsen noted: “The European solution: Bicycles?”

Two other friends, Mark and Jutta Brayne, have taken Ernst’s two-wheeler notion to a whole other level: An 1,800 mile ride on a bicycle built for two — from the top of New Zealand’s northern island to the bottom of the southern one — in part to raise money for freelance journalists who encounter trouble (or worse) on the job.  After pedaling on their own for nearly six weeks, Mark and Jutta were joined for the journey’s final few days by their daughter, Katie, and her partner, Mela. Katie and Mela covered the same ground (and then some) but the advantage of individual bikes (and younger legs) made for fewer days on the road.

brayne arrival

Mark, Jutta, Katie and Mela celebrate their arrival at New Zealand’s southernmost shore

We were taken with this Brayne family adventure for all sorts of reasons. I first encountered Mark and his bike 35 years ago in Vienna, where he cycled to work at the old Bankgasse press center where we occupied side-by-side offices. Although in sporadic touch over the years, it wasn’t until last summer — during our final days at Beacon Hill Friends House — that the four of us re-connected in person. Mark and Jutta were visiting the U.S. from their home in Sheringham, on England’s east coast, and there was a lot to catch up on.

In Vienna, we were parents of young children and new babies. Last summer in Boston, we were 60-somethings comparing notes about new stages of life. Continue reading

What’s next: Life across the hall

Fifteen years ago, when we were moving from California to Florida, I said to Bill that I hoped this would be our last move. The move to Florida was our ninth major move (not counting from one place to another in the same city) in a then thirty year marriage. I longed for the stability of sinking deep roots in a place and never having to go through such a major change again.

Much to my surprise, I was the one who pushed for the move to Boston almost three years ago. It would not be a move to somewhere we could remain, but to a temporary setting — a term-limited time in Beacon Hill Friends House, an intentional community run by the Quakers (read about that adventure here).

Now we have moved on to another adventure – living across the hall from our youngest daughter, her husband and their two children. There are no guarantees this will be our last move.

six of us in the hallway for first post

In pondering all of this I came across a quote from Gail Godwin’s book, The Finishing School. In  it she describes the kind of death we should fear:  “It can happen at any time you’re going along, and then, at some point, you congeal. You know, like jelly. You’re not fluid any more. You solidify at a certain point and from then on your life is doomed to be a repetition of what you have done before. That’s the enemy.” Continue reading