Aging Gracefully: Becoming 68
Just Slightly Photo-shopped
My birthday was March 14th. When I wrote the article about my 67th birthday, I did it on that day. Somehow this year I had no inspiration and decided to wait and let more things come to mind about the past year. Those of you who read my hubs know I don't do "how-to" articles or articles that require a lot of research. My writing is certainly not a money-making endeavor; it is strictly, one, for fun, but mostly to pass on whatever knowledge I may have gained about life, hoping to influence someone along the way as others influenced me. And here let me say rest in peace, Tom Clark and Lynn Wilson.
This has been a stellar year for me, not because of any huge milestone or achievement but because it's the year I let down most of my defenses. They were old and brittle and ready to come down after years of holding them up and rationalizing them. They're there for most of us because we've been hurt in the past. We start to build walls and fences around our feelings as children and never stop. This year I decided to stop letting the past define who I am today. I began to leave myself vulnerable to friends, family, even someone I met on a dirt road in Arkansas. I decided that being hurt was better than not feeling at all. And for the first time, I think I began to realize that others hurt us because of something that's happening with them, not anything to do with us. When I first began to consider living this new way, I remember asking myself, What's the worst that can happen? And it wasn't so bad. I can handle it.
I think as we get older, we begin to realize that anything we can do to enjoy life more, just to live more, and most importantly, to love more, we need to do it now, right now. We no longer have the luxury of time stretching endlessly ahead. The tomorrow we constantly deferred to throughout our lives is suddenly here.
I talked to my friend from high school yesterday. She asked my husband and me to stay with her the night and day before our class reunion in Arkansas. We both agreed that we weren't being morbid, just realistic, when we recognized that it might be our last time together. Life is crazy. Her husband and my dear friend was with us one day and gone the next. He was 63 years old.
I reconnected with a roommate from college in the '60s recently. We were in our 20s when I saw her last. It seems as though the 40 some-odd years between then and now never happened and the bond we had is still there and I'm sure will always be.
My friend who worked with me for 25 years moved away a few years ago and now lives in another state. We visit two or three times a year and email often, but there is an empty place where she was when she was here.
My closest friend recently lost a dear pet and I felt her pain at times, almost as though it was happening to me. That's part of friendship and vulnerability: feeling the pain of those you care about.
These changes and fluctuations in relationships are part of the rhythm of life. Letting ourselves be vulnerable is certainly not a guarantee against hurt, just the opposite, but it is a resounding affirmation to life.
I would like to pass on some lessons I've learned in my 68 years. Others have helped me along the path and hopefully, something I say will strike a chord with a reader here.
Number one and first and foremost: Take care of yourself. Stand up for yourself. Being a martyr is not healthy or attractive. I have had both women and men tell me all the things they do for the company, for friends, for family, etc., and how unappreciated they are, how everyone takes them for granted, blah, blah. I think this is where I'm supposed to think what a great individual they are. I don't say much, but what I'm thinking is: You're a damn fool. If you do so much, so much, so much for anyone or everyone and no one appreciates you, you get something out of that, some perverse satisfaction. Perhaps you think people admire you for it. They don't. They think you're insecure and maladjusted or, like me, they think you're a damn fool. Find a balance and do your part and your part alone. I can talk with such judgment about this particular situation because I've been there and done it with great relish -- because I too was a damn fool.
Number two, live in the present. Your happiness won't be found by reliving the past. What happened, bad or good, is done, over, the end. Leave it in the past where it belongs. Fretting about the future was one of my favorite pastimes for many, many years. Eventually I told a spiritual teacher about it. Here are her words: If you worry about it long enough, you will bring it to your doorstep. The idea was terrifying because what I was worrying about was my children who were normal teenagers doing normal teenage stuff. That was the point where I began to try to stop worrying. I do it still every now and then, but always catch myself and stop. Remember to ask yourself: Do I want to bring this to my doorstep? Negative thoughts bring negative things. LIVE IN THE PRESENT. Eckhart Tolle's phenomenal book The Power of Now changed my thinking about living in the present forever. When worry overcomes you, "feel" yourself, your physical self, fill your senses with everything around you: sights, smells, sounds, bring yourself back to the present where your life is and stop mucking around in the past, which is gone forever, or the future, which you should be creating with your happiness in the present.
Third, nature has been an important part of my life for the last few years. When my husband Joe and I take the boat out, it is so peaceful to be out on the water watching the red-winged black birds fly over, seeing the spring flowers in bloom, and even seeing the alligators chasing our corks, although it's annoying when they run the fish away! On days when I work all day, I make it a point to go outdoors periodically and walk around in the backyard. We were not made to breathe stale air. Feeling the wind and sun is a healing thing if we allow it to be. The camp in Arkansas has been a joy for us, walking the paths, riding our four-wheelers and fishing in the lakes there.
Fourth, and I believe this is so important and I will give my friend Kathy credit for helping me learn the concept: Make peace with your life. So you didn't write the great novel, land the fabulous job, win the elected office, or whatever your dream was. Make peace with and appreciate the things you have done. I have a box of mementos where former students from my school or family members of AIDS patients I volunteered to help or my children or my family members or friends wrote me letters or notes of appreciation. They are my affirmation that my life mattered, that the world is a bit better because I was here. Build yourself a box and on days when you can't stop thinking about your failures, remind yourself of your successes. Make peace with your life. We were not all put here for greatness, but then again, it depends on what you consider greatness.
Fifth, take chances. I read Eleanor Roosevelt's words every day on my refrigerator magnet: Every day, do something that scares you. Don't create a comfort zone for yourself that you never want to leave. I was very intimidated and scared the first time I attended my dream study group. I didn't know a soul and didn't know how the group would react to an older woman. Turns out some of them were (almost) as old as I am and all were friendly and welcoming. The group has enriched my life in so many ways. If I had given in to my fears, I wouldn't be involved in it. I have even invited two friends to join our group and we study our dreams together. Push past the fear to get to the rewards.
Finally and very importantly, don't hold grudges. Forgive people. Grudges are hurtful to everyone concerned, especially when they involve family or close friends. Let it go. I am not particularly religious but I consider myself a spiritual person and I am quite sure that God didn't put us here to hold grudges and harbor resentments. He put us here to love each other and be loved. I remember saying this when I turned 67 and I'll repeat it. It's not the car, the house, the vacations, the job, etc., that will matter when your life begins to wind down but how much and how well you loved and allowed yourself to be loved and how willing you were to forgive and move on. Life is a gift. Treat it as such.
A belated happy birthday to me!