My Seventies: Aging Gracefully
These are my somewhat rambling thoughts on being 71 1/2. Stream of consciousness seems to be my method of writing, so here we go!
Looking back, I remember when I was 25, I thought 50 years old was basically the "end of life." I thought the days of feeling attractive or even energetic would be gone forever after 50. Now I am 71 1/2 years old. I haven't changed much inside. I still have the same aspirations to be a better person: kinder, more compassionate, less self-centered; to be more organized about my work and home and life in general; to have more patience with those who think differently than I and to realize my opinion is just that, an opinion and that everyone is entitled to them; always, always, to lose 25 or 30 pounds; and on and on. I am essentially the same Sue I was at 25 except that I have achieved some of my goals and have realized that I have not necessarily underestimated myself for many years, but have overestimated others. A valuable lesson we learn in life is that others have their own issues. When sometimes they lash out, it is not necessarily about us, but about them. It certainly doesn't mean that they are less admirable or less lovable, only that they have faults, just as we do. Since I have learned to see the people around me as human and not perfect, my own imperfections fade somewhat and I realize we are all just doing the best we can with the enlightenment we have. Ask yourself, what else can we do?
Notre Dame Cathedral
The Holy Instant
I occasionally attend a group that studies A Course in Miracles. I am not religious about attendance, but I like the group and I like what I hear. In Chapter 18, IV. The Little Willingness, they speak of the holy instant. As with any religious text, we all hear something a bit different. For me, the holy instant has happened perhaps only three or four times. One was when a close relative was away at school, very homesick and unhappy. I remember speaking with them on the phone and at some point in that conversation, a feeling of peace and love and "knowing" so strong it was impossible to ignore came over me. I knew from that "instant" forward, they would be not only okay but blessed. I think that was a holy instant, a communication where the divine and the human met and touched. I will never forget it and I still remember it when I need inspiration.
I'll offer one more story to make my point. I was in a job I disliked and wasn't getting along with my boss at all. I came back from a trip to Hot Springs and had brought crystals for my coworkers. I had them in my pocket. I went into my boss's office to ask her about the day's schedule. When I looked at her, she looked so tired and unhappy, without thinking, I pulled one of the crystals from my pocket and handed it to her. She was touched. Once again, the feeling of love, of knowing I had done the right thing, of peace in my heart. This also, I believe, was communication with the divine. I believe we strive for more of this in our lives. It comes with nature, meditation, prayer and, for me, music. When I feel I am missing something, these are the ways I find it, these things and, more important, always choosing love in our dealings with others. For me, that is what grace is, the ability to rise above a situation and choose love.
Notre Dame Cathedral
Living and Learning
More than one (young) person has asked me if you think about dying as you get older. For a while, I was obsessed with it! I dreamed about it, complete with a man in a black car who had come to get me and take me away. At the end of about six months of thinking of death, I realized it is something I have absolutely no control over. Of course, I hope that it will be easy and I'll keel over and be gone. We all want that. However, if not, if it's meant that I endure a prolonged illness, I'll be okay. I have no idea where I read it, but somewhere I read an admonishment that we should at least vow to be brave in old age. I have made that vow and I will.
My mom died very young, when I was 23. I think often of how much I would have missed if that were the case for me. There was a time when I could look back over ten years and see growth in myself, mentally, spiritually. Now I look back and see it monthly. I believe our spiritual learning accelerates as we get older. There is less drama and nonsense to get in the way of it. I believe we develop an understanding that allows us to grasp what this (life) is about and to make our lives more in tune with that.
You Are Free
I have often wondered if we are observed by a spiritual presence. I remember a hymn from my Methodist youth about "His eyes are on the sparrow, and I know he watches me." I believe there is a watching presence. However, I have never believed that presence, Spirit, judges us when we fail to be loving and compassionate, but swells with joy when we act from love. When I was younger and did something out of spite, jealousy, anger, I would feel so badly about it that for months, I couldn't leave it alone, couldn't stop thinking about it. Age has taught me not to get so down on myself, but simply do better. I know better, so I have that responsibility. One of my all-time favorite quotes is from Illusions by Richard Bach. The quote is from The Messiah's Handbook. It goes like this:
"Life does not require us to be consistent, cruel, patient, helpful, angry, rational, thoughtless, loving, rash, open-minded, neurotic, careful, rigid, tolerant, wasteful, rich, downtrodden, gentle, sick, considerate, funny, stupid, healthy, greedy, beautiful, lazy, responsive, foolish sharing, pressured, intimate, hedonistic, industrious, manipulative, insightful, capricious, wise, selfish, kind or sacrificing. Life does, however, require us to live with the consequences of our choices."
It's all up to you, what you do, how you live, just never forget that actions and words have consequences. A friend of mine and former coworker told me once that she finally realized that that rush of adrenaline she got when she returned meanness with meanness just wasn't as fulfilling as letting it go and being the bigger person. I understood. I've realized the same thing. Let it go. Walk away. (Take a bow.)
Peace of Mind
Summing It All Up
Sometimes when I work late at night in my den, I feel so many spirits around me. It is not frightening and doesn't put me off. My father-in-law spent many hours out here and I believe he's around. A psychic told me that she felt the presence of an old gentleman in this room. I sometimes feel the past, not a particular person, but just the past, the '60s: the music, the clothes, high school, college surrounding me. I will always feel the presence of my two cats, Frankie who was our feral outside cat for 15 years and General, her son, who lived inside for 16 1/2 years until his death this summer. I feel my grandmother's spirit near me often these days as I transcribe her diaries. She is finally gaining the attention she wanted and will have more as time goes on. I am happy to be a part of that. When I speak of these things, people get uncomfortable and likely believe I'm not right in the head. Here is my answer: If you invite them, they will come.
My life has been just what I have needed to grow and learn about all sorts of things. The pictures are from a recent trip to Oxford, London and Paris. It was a happy, exciting time that I didn't expect to have. My take on life at 71 1/2 years is that it will evolve as you do. We attract what we think to some degree, but we definitely attract what we are. I am not speaking of the "person" we project to the world. I am speaking of the deepest feelings, thoughts, ideas, beliefs of each of us. They manifest in our lives. Of course, if you are happy with your life, don't change any of those things. If you're not happy with your life, get busy. It took me all these years to change them and I still work at it every day.
As for being older, it is different for everyone. For me, it has been a time for introspection and reflection. A few nights ago, I was thinking of a time nine or ten years ago when I sold a business I had run for 15 years and was trying to adjust to working at home and starting a different kind of life. I saw a wonderful psychologist during that period of time and I will never forget laughing with him as I got better about my "dilemma." The last time I visited him as a patient -- I've seen him a couple of times as a friend, just to say hi -- he said, "Sue, I don't think you're that unhappy anymore." I remember I burst into tears because I knew he was right and the knowledge was completely overwhelming. Things get better. Things work out. They are cliches, but they are true. Our mission in life is to get through its challenges with grace, even the challenges of growing older. My experience has always been and I'm certain will always be that the good far outweighs the bad in all of life, beginning to end.
I believe we are all here to make the paths of others just a bit easier. If one sentence, one quote, one thought written here moves anyone who reads this in a happier, more peaceful direction, I will have succeeded in my mission. Above all, be brave and always choose love.