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

The pesky question “why?”

I had completely forgotten about that stage of toddlerhood when “why?” becomes the most important question.

It goes something like this:

Me: “Leila, look at that bird in the tree”

Leila: “Why is the bird in the tree?”

Me: “Maybe she’s looking for something to eat.”

Leila: “Why?”

Me: “Maybe because she’s hungry.”

Leila: “Why?”

Me: “Because she hasn’t eaten for a while.”

Leila: “Why?”

And so on into infinity.

I often wonder if the word “why” means the same thing to her as it means to adults. If you Google “why do toddlers ask why?” you’ll find some answers. But mostly you’ll find advice about how to handle the frustration of constantly being asked questions you can’t always find answers for. The site I found most informative suggests that toddlers aren’t as interested in cause and effect as we are. Rather, they want to know more about a subject and have discovered the power of that little word to keep an adult talking about it. They’re also learning about and practicing conversational give and take.

Maybe all of this is fueled by wonder – that sense of looking around outside of oneself, marveling at what’s there, and wanting to know more about it.

Leila looking upOur daughter, Kate, when pushed to the limits of her knowledge, often tells Leila, “I don’t know. We’ll have to look it up.” She began to notice that whenever she asked Leila a question she didn’t know the answer to Leila would tilt her head back and examine the ceiling. This puzzled her immensely until the day she asked Leila if her brother had taken a nap while the nanny was there. Leila said “I don’t know, Mommy, let me look up.” 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

“Knock, knock. It’s Leila”

I’m just back from spending two weeks in California teaching in a prison. The prisoners with whom I work are learning to become addiction treatment counselors. Many of them are lifers, doing time for murder. Of necessity, they have to do their own recovery and rehabilitation work in order to become effective counselors. It’s a long hard road for them.

The majority of these prisoners were seriously abused and/or neglected as children. Terrible things happened to them. Most of them used substances to numb the pain of those terrible things. Because, for whatever reason, they couldn’t recover, they, in turn, did terrible things. Author Richard Rohr says it like this: “…if you do not transform your pain, you will surely transmit it to those around you and even to the next generation.” (The Naked Nowpage 125) 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