Painful awakening – Releasing the Past – Emerging into the Present

Today is going to be a challenge. I volunteer at the local zoo, which I absolutely love to do and am grateful for the opportunity. I get to observe elephants….what a blessing and sacred gift this has been for me. I am able to be with them quietly and simply observe their being. The zoo collects data about what they do, how much they move, interactions with each other, and anything else that we, the observers notice. This helps to provide these wonderful creatures with the best life possible and to try and make any adjustments needed, as well as to keep learning about them. I started volunteering while I was still working, and it quickly became my favorite part of the week. Now that I am retired, and my weeks are very different, this still continues to be one of my favorite parts of the week. I feel very lucky.

Today there is a special event at our zoo…..it is an opportunity to return any items that were obtained through wildlife abuse and trade that people may have inherited or been gifted that they no longer want to keep but don’t know what to do with these items. All the items will be collected by the Department of Fish and Wildlife and used for educational purposes. It’s a good thing.

Over the years, and particularly since volunteering at the zoo, I have become educated about the many horrible abuses that we humans inflict on our fellow beings on this earth. Although the animals that I observe are in a zoo, and we know this is not ideal, this zoo works hard for education and conservation and many of the animals are rescued animals. I feel good about being part of this education and so pleased when I hear families talking with each other as they learn about things that they did not know. Like how elephants are killed for their tusks so that trinkets can be made from the ivory. How our tigers were rescued as they were no longer “suitable” for the pet portraits (“Have your photo taken with a tiger cub”) that their “owner” had obtained them for when they were cubs How elephants are really trained for those “elephant rides” or how they were trained to perform in circuses, with cruel instruments like bull hooks that leave bloody wounds. The cruelty is beyond understanding and is heartbreaking. And heart-opening.

Heart opening…..it is difficult to hear about and learn about all the pain inflicted on animals, but we can use this pain to open our hearts. To learn, and to help in whatever way that we can. As I continue to age, I become more aware and ever more sensitive to other creatures, the earth, and all that is around that I did not have or take the time to really notice and pay deeper attention to before. It hurts, but perhaps I can use that pain. I no longer eat meat and will work toward including fish in this, which I still occasionally eat. I now look around in my closets and in my house and see a different thing altogether when I see leather items. I’m working on that and am pleased when I see “vegan leather” items in stores now.

And this brings me to the event today. My mother died 11 years ago, and left me her belongings, one of which was a mink coat. It was something that she treasured and loved having, and I understand what it meant to her….times were different and there was not as much awareness. And now it is hanging in my closet…..and I cannot bear to think about how this was made, how these animals were killed for their fur so that it could be made into a coat that is not really to keep someone warm, but rather to look beautiful. A status symbol in days past. Something to be proud to own. And now, for me, a symbol of cruelty and shame. But….it is a part of my mother and who she was…..and I deeply feel that part of her. This coat that she wore, that was around her ever more frail body toward the end, that she held onto as the gift from her husband, my father, who left her 15 years before her time came. Although there were some challenging mother-daughter dynamics between us, I did love her and do treasure the good and loving times and memories. She was my mom. She is gone. And I miss her. And this coat…..it feels like a part of her.

It is a part of her, however, that I cannot resonate with. And so now it comes time to let another part of her go….My journey, my own heroine’s journey in this life (the book that I hope to write) includes my struggle to emerge from the definitions of myself that were imposed on me by others that were not true to my inner self and being. It has taken me all these years to feel as if that real me, the me that was buried under trying to please everyone else and fulfill their expectations (at the cost of my own soul) is finally emerging. I am giving it Voice, I am listening, and I am working to act with more and more integrity toward that true self inside.

So I will donate this coat, and donate it from the place inside that tells me that I cannot keep it nor can I give it to someone else to wear (which would only continue the practice of admiration for the slaughter of these animals). I feel the pain of letting go of that part of her….even though I know it is only a coat. Not really, though. It is a part of her that I don’t relate to, a part that I do not agree with, and a part of her that I need to let go of as I stand more strongly in the me that must be heard and validated. I let go of the coat with some grief and sadness, but with a realization that I must choose me first…..that indeed, this is my life…..and I need to live it for me. And abide by my own values. I send love to the spirit of my mother, and I now send love to the spirit inside me. I must fully emerge before it is my time to go. The time to do that is now. The choice I must make is me. With blessings to all…..and I now include mySelf in that – first. Then, when I give to others, it will truly be from my heart and soul. It will be genuine – and that is the best gift of all. The journey we take, I believe, is to start with the Self we were born into, and finally, finally come home to that. Welcome home.

A Day Trip to the Land of Old

I want to tell you a story about a mini trip that I took this week – a trip to the Land of Old. This land is a very unique place, with its own fashions, devices, people, and culture. It’s a land that we actually, if lucky enough, enter someday if we live long enough. After my day adventure there, I wonder to myself….how long have I actually, without my conscious awareness, been already living in this land and just not known it (or not wanted to know it….?) But, that is for another story…

The first stop in the new land was an appointment with a hearing aid clinic. Yes, I had been assessed as having lost a bit more hearing in my left ear, enough that a device might make a significant difference. Although I knew of this loss, entering this new land of the hearing aid clinic still came with surprises. I enter the waiting room, and notice that all the people in there are “old”. Of course, I have not really seen myself as belonging to this group, but…I realize….indeed I do belong to this group and I am here for a reason….that I have some hearing loss…..related to age…… I sit quietly in the room, observing others, working with my own reactions and realizations… I notice a younger woman walk in and feel some relief (how strange to have that reaction, I realize now).. Alas, I soon find out that she is dropping off her mother’s hearing aids to be cleaned (who knew that they had to be cleaned?? Of course that makes sense, but I never thought of that…!) And I continue to wait….listening to the receptionist answer the phone loudly to make sure that whomever was calling could hear her.

I am called into the office. My record of my hearing test is there. with the same person who administered it to me. I find some comfort to have the same person walk me through this next step – a familiar and kind face….a guide in this new land. He brings out different models of hearing aids….I defer to his expert opinion as I know nothing of these things at this time. He suggests a particular brand and I agree. He makes a mold of my ear and shows me ….and then it’s time to choose a color. (Somehow this is much less exciting than choosing the color of a new car….) We agree on a color that seems to match my hair. And there we have it – the device is ordered and I will pick it up and be trained on how to use it (and how to get the app on my phone that can help me adjust it- is there anything that doesn’t have an app??) on the appointed date in about a month. He apologizes for not getting me in earlier…which, frankly, I am very ok with, since I am not in a hurry. Don’t get me wrong, I do feel gratitude that there are devices and aids that can help us….I just don’t remember getting to the age where I would need one. But, here I am.

Ok, I leave this appointment . Next stop – the pharmacy – as my doctor has recommended (and I have been resisting for a year) a statin for my cholesterol, which is a bit higher than when we last measured it. I always read about all the side effects of any medication that is prescribed (which usually scares the living daylights out of me). One of the side effects of this particular medication is that it may cause some memory loss or confusion. Now, to an older person, (am I now really referring to myself as that????), this is especially frightening. We already live in dread of the “D” word, dementia, and any slight movement toward that is not something that we will easily risk. I am assured by both my doctor and the pharmacist (who I had to inform about this particular side effect, which he was not aware of), that the effect will stop once you cease taking the medication and that if this happens to me, I can stop the statin. Ok, I can live with that….so now I have this new little pill to add to my daily regimen, along with my blood pressure pill.

Next stop – the uro-gynecologist…..Men, you may want to skip this part, if this may make you squeamish and uncomfortable. Women, you will know what I am talking about.

So I now have figured out why these years are called the “golden years”. It is about the color of urine and that you have to know the location and distance to every restroom from where you currently are, as “holding it” now no longer feels like a viable option. I now plan my hikes based on the number and location of rest rooms that are available. That is not what I envisioned when I first heard the term “golden years”, but now I know…..all too well. I am at the uro-gynecologist’s office to get an assessment to make sure that nothing else is going on, and also to get some ideas and possible tools and assistance with the gold in golden years. All seems ok, and we talk about options. I am both horrified and amused that one of the options that the doctor mentions is a Botox injection for the bladder. Seriously? I have not had Botox, and am not sure that I want to start that with my bladder. The thought makes me cringe. Apparently it is about 60% effective. And 100% unbelievable. There is also something called tibial stimulation – apparently a form of acupuncture that can also be 60% effective and has no side effects. I opt for that, which they will call me to schedule. Weekly….for 12 weeks. 30 minute sessions with a needle stuck somewhere in your ankle. It’s a good thing that you are older and retired when you may need this, as who would have the time to do this weekly for 12 weeks???

Since this doctor also has gynecologist as part of her specialty, we talk about that area as well. (I have to tell you that I debated about including this part of the story, but it is, I think, an important part for many of us women….so here goes. These days, when embarrassed about something, I ask myself what will it matter when I am gone? And maybe it will help someone else to be able to relate.. So…..onward…..)

After my exam, I, for the first time, get to hear about the term “vaginal atrophy”…. I somehow did not connect that my vagina would age along with the rest of me, and that this can cause some issues and discomfort. We talk about options. Estrogen is one. …..The doctor assures me that the external version is much less risky than the oral form, and that she would be comfortable using it herself. She says it will give me a “younger vagina”. (What does one even say to that?? Seriously??) I need to think about this. I now go back to the pharmacy (and people wave at me in recognition as this is my second visit there in a few hours) and get to hear, in all the lovely details, about the side effects of this particular medication. The pharmacist asks…..”You know this is a hormone..?” Seriously, I am older, but not demented yet (I think…..) I read the pamphlet as well – and , to my horror, dementia is also listed there. In addition to various forms of cancer, which again, I am reassured, is different for the externally applied version than the oral pill version. I take my prescription home. (I tell myself that I need to remember…..my sexuality and sensuality have not atrophied….They are still very much here and part of who I am and hopefully will continue to be.)

I am home, exhausted from my day trip to this new land……It has left me much to think about, much to process in terms of feelings and reactions, much to ponder…..Here I sit with my statin and estrogen prescriptions and my appointment to get my new hearing aid. I will wait and process this emotionally for a few days before the final decision to take either or both of the new prescriptions. I don’t know how I got here. I am a bit in shock (as I have been in denial, clearly). I made it through the day. I survived. I have survived into becoming older. I have arrived. And there will be more adventures to come in this new land. And I will keep moving forward, prescriptions in hand…..and keep living my best life possible….and, God help me, I will keep laughing as much as I can. Laughter is vital. And the best prescription of all.

The Birds and the Bees….

Did I get your attention with the title? I know that you may be expecting something in this blog based on the title, but this really is about the birds and the bees!

So I have, since my retirement, enjoyed not only more writing, and painting, but also have found such joy in simple things. I have a small birdbath in my back yard, and several potted plants whose bottom containers also serve as birdbaths. I have absolutely loved watching all the various birds come and splash enthusiastically, and if I am home that day, I find myself refilling the water frequently. It has been a pleasure to do this….until….

So we, here in California, are in the midst of our summer drought (as well as smoky unhealthy air from all the fires in the state). This leaves not only people suffering, but wildlife as well. It breaks my heart to think about this. It also provides yet more life lessons. Yet again.

As a little girl, I was terrified of bees and would run screaming from any that I saw anywhere around me. It was a pretty irrational fear, as I had never been stung by one (not until a young adult, and although not life threatening, it was unpleasant – but certainly did not warrant the level of fear that arose in me around bees.)

And here I sit, writing at the table, as I look outside at the huge number of honey bees that have taken over the sources of water, especially around the hottest part of the day. The birds do still attempt to approach and do get their baths earlier in the morning, but right now the bees have dominion. And I find myself torn…..I love that the birds bathe and drink the water, but am also more aware these days of the importance of honeybees as well to the environment. I have read that ,indeed, they are endangered and that we need to protect them and encourage their survival in this ever challenging environment and climate. So, it is now time to face my fear, put my money where my mouth is, rise to the challenge and face the bees.

So here I sit, refilling the sources of water so that the bees can also have their fill, (and so that there will also be enough for the birds as well…I still need to figure out if I can do something to better help them co-exist – yet another project that will have more lessons to give, I’m certain – but that is for another post…). I now find myself, since I want to respect as many life forms that I can (I am not sure, however, that I will ever be able to extend this compassion to mosquitoes…..I’m human….)..I find myself going out and finding branches to put in the water so that the bees can find a way to climb out if they go too deeply into the water and become in danger of drowning….and have even taken a twig and extended it to a floundering bee caught in the water and taken it to to safety. I never would have thought this possible. I still, of course, feel some anxiety and trepidation when I venture out among the bees to replenish the water, but am able to talk myself through it (as well as having quite a few conversations with the bees while I am out there, reassuring them that I mean them no harm and hoping that they will extend me the same courtesy and good will.)

Perhaps we can apply this lesson to other fears in life….face them, get to know them, understand where they come from, co-exist with them. Maybe realize that we don’t need to be as afraid as we are…respectfully cautious when needed, yes, but not terrorized…..Maybe we have more courage than we give ourselves credit for? Maybe we can be more than we ever thought possible? Some thoughts and questions we can perhaps let buzz around in our minds….

The Weight of Grief, the Measure of Sadness

Today I am thinking about the heaviness of our feelings, the weight of grief.

Grief, as I have written about in past posts, for me feels like an ever more constant and familiar companion as I continue this aging journey. Losses of friends, family, pets, roles, structure (since retirement), youth, bodies as we used to know them, skin as we used to see it, faces that look different (though familiar) in our mirrors.

Literally, grief carries weight for me. One method that I have used to comfort myself in my life (it can work in the moment, but not so much in the long run) is food. I have struggled with weight for most of my life, and all the shame and other judgments that come along with not being the perfect size that society tells us that we must be. But, even deeper, the shame of using this substance to numb myself and somehow get through whatever feelings may be going on that I don’t want to feel or acknowledge. Sadness, anger, frustration, fear, anxiety – all become triggers. I have been on every diet pretty much known, and could even write a diet book. Knowledge and facts can help, but are not the total answer. The feelings and reasons and emotions underneath and inside of us need to be heard and seen….and validated. Not shamed and stuffed down (literally). And so, I am looking once again at this issue and “coping” method these days. Is it working? Not so much? Has it helped? Yes, I suppose in some ways it has helped me get through what I needed to get through. I don’t need to shame myself even more than has already been done – by myself and others.

We all try to cope as we can. Sometimes in healthy ways, sometimes not. Some use alcohol, work addiction, sexual addictions, other substances or even other people…..and some use food. It all has consequences. It all is used for some purpose, even if not in the healthiest of ways. I don’t believe that we deliberately go out to try and destroy ourselves, but rather to cope with pain in ways that may not always be the best.

Grief is one of the things that we face – and more as we age. And for me, grief carries weight with it. Weight I can see. Weight I can feel. Weight I need to now have a dialogue with. As I do with grief. As I do with everything that comes up from deep inside me. We spend so much of our lives avoiding, denying, running from, pushing down, pushing away, stuffing, surviving, tolerating, settling…..And we don’t need to judge ourselves for that, either. We are doing what we know or have figured out to do that we think might help us cope.

Here is, then, yet another challenge. How can we love ourselves to the best health that we can achieve? How can we forgive ourselves for whatever it is that we need to forgive? How can we learn to see and weigh and measure ourselves by who we are inside, to finally see and hear ourselves deeply and just “be” with who and what we are? And not have to push or stuff or shove it down and away….but to acknowledge and accept and understand….finally….to hear…and listen. To learn to deeply nourish ourselves…. so that we can be the best version of ourselves while we are still alive….and share that with those who can hear and understand and resonate with us and our being.

We will have many losses. And we are still here, still present, still hungry for attention and love (especially from ourselves)…..still hungry for life.

The medicine of self compassion

I am struck these days, in observing myself on this journey of aging and life, with how challenging self compassion can be. I would ask each of you, how often did you show yourself the same kindness and compassion that you are able to show others?

I recently had an experience that once again brought this topic to light for me..

I was having some work done on some trees, and needed my neighbor to move her car out of her driveway so that the workers could access a tree that they had to work on. She was going on vacation and so she gave me her keys to her Prius. Now, I have never driven a Prius, so she gave me a quick lesson on how to move it out of the driveway and back.

The day of the tree work arrived. The owner of the tree business kindly offered to move the car himself since he had, in the past, owned exactly that same car. Great, I thought, one less time I have to be nervous about moving it. Tree work done, and time to move the car back to its original spot. And so I started to back it up, and oh -the dreaded sound of the car hitting something. I had hit one of the low concrete posts on her retaining wall. I pulled forward and then came the next dreaded sound of something being further damaged. With much trepidation, I got out of the car and to my horror, I had managed to actually pull the bumper off on the right rear side….there it was, hanging there for all to see my shame. I stood there, not quite believing what I had just done. And then, and then, the internal voices of shaming and self recrimination began their relentless chorus of attacks. I was immobilized in my shame and horror and disbelief. I won’t repeat what those internal voices said to me, as it is unfit to print. (Needless to say, this was not helpful in the least.) And those voices did not let up for a moment. I was unable to focus on much of anything else for the rest of the day, and felt truly as if I was in a nightmare. Why couldn’t it have been my own car? What was I doing to have this happen? Was I losing my mind, ability to drive, ability to focus? The intensity of the self recriminations and attacks was something so painful to try and tolerate. I emailed my neighbor, who was due back that night. I called my insurance company (what the heck is the purpose of insurance, I wondered, as they told me that my rates would be raised 20% for the next five years….?) I texted my neighbor’s son, who lives locally. He was kind and reassuring, told me it was a good idea that I had let his mother know and “pre-heated” her. (What an interesting choice of words, yes?) And I stewed in my shame and humiliation and total horror at myself for the rest of the day and well into the night. As I look back, the punishment seemed a bit severe for the crime, but there it was. The level of stress and shame made it impossible for me to really think clearly. And waiting for my neighbor to get back so that we could talk and deal with this…..was excruciating.

Fast forward to now…..I have a friend who knew of someone who did really good auto bodywork out of his garage, charged a reasonable fee, and was less than 5 minutes from my home. Great! I called him, and he was able, with my neighbor’s agreement, to fit us in on the very day that I called him and was able to fix it right then (apparently the damage was more easily fixable than I could have imagined ). And charged me a really low fee (so low that I had to talk him up a bit!) My neighbor was happy with the repair, and I was so relieved ….beyond what I am able to describe. Problem resolved the very day after the dreadful incident. Insurance company called and claim cancelled.

So…looking back….What an interesting process to observe in myself. How deeply and quickly my feelings of shame can get triggered. How easily I can turn against myself. How I would never do to someone else what I do to myself internally. How fragile we can all be at times with our self esteem and how quickly and cruelly we can speak to ourselves – so much so that it can immobilize us.

I don’t believe that I am alone in my reactions, although the intensity and the triggers may be different for each of us. And how much time have we spent berating ourselves for things that were accidents? (There is a reason that they are called accidents, after all). How much we can expect the unattainable perfection from ourselves and then constantly come up short and lacking. And what that self cruelty can lead to….either in damage to ourselves or perhaps in ways that leak out in our treatment of others as well.

Self forgiveness can be one of the most difficult things to practice. Self compassion can get put on the bottom of the list after everyone else is taken care of first. Self love can be seen as selfish. (And sadly, that word (selfish) has become a word that has negative meaning attached to it). I would ask, if I cannot be kind and forgive myself, how genuine and real can be my forgiveness of others? Of course we need to take responsibility for our actions and face whatever consequences may come, but do we really need to add more punishment to that? I think not.

It’s time for us to recognize one of the greatest superpowers of them all…..kindness …..and that we, too, deserve that from ourselves.

The ache of trees…..

I am in my home today, listening to the sound of chain saws (not my favorite melody, to be sure). I have a cedar tree on my property that is leaning in a way that does not bode well, should it come down completely at some point. The arborist counseled that it is time to have it taken down. And so, I have been listening to the sound of the chain saws, and listening with my heart to the sound of a tree being destroyed. It breaks my heart to have to cut down trees, and yet I know that there are times that it is necessary. I live in California, so there can be many reasons to cut down trees, not the least of which is fire danger and needing to reduce the threat as much as possible. And there are safety reasons when trees get close to toppling over onto property and possibly people. The arborist that I work with donates cut trees to various causes, one of which is the local zoo (and since I volunteer with the elephants, who eat a lot of branches and bark, it is good to know that the trees continue to give and provide…in a different form.) And yet, I still experience and feel some grief for this lovely tree. It is a form of life, one that has been here for a while….and I have enjoyed having it near me. I see the pieces in my driveway and will watch them haul them away. Sadly. I grab a piece of a branch with leaves attached to it and put it on my fireplace mantle.

I am so interested to notice how much more sensitive to everything that I become as I continue to age. I seem to feel the pain of other creatures (having finally become mostly vegetarian …with the occasional fish meal that I will at some point also let go of), the pain of the earth (trees, plants, the ocean, the air and all the poisons that we humans have filled it with)….I can barely drive by some poor creature who has been accidentally hit by a car on the freeway. I cannot even tolerate thinking of my friend who hunts deer, although I appreciate the hunting that at least makes use of all of the animal for sustainment and nourishment. I have no tolerance for the hunting for “trophies”. I have no understanding for the senseless slaughter of elephants so that trinkets can be made out of the ivory of their tusks. I get sad when I think of all the species facing extinction – like the polar bears -who starve for food in a climate that can no longer sustain what they need to live.

I wonder, as we age, does our heart increase in its capacity to feel all of this more? I hear about all the declines and loss of functioning that comes with aging – but I am interested to notice all the gains (not just the weight around my middle..! We must hold tight to our sense of humor….) that also seem to be coming with aging. I feel more sensitive to the pain of others. I feel more sensitive to the ever growing list of losses that also seem to come with aging – loss of friends, loss of family, loss of others who help us hold our history and our past and our story. I have no siblings, and now that my parents are gone, and with no other family around me, I feel the loss of others who remember all the pieces of me from different times of my life. I grieve that.

I have written before how grief now feels like a familiar companion to me. I resign myself to this, inviting grief in to sit with me so that I can learn what it has to teach me, painful as the lesson may be. It also teaches me to appreciate each moment more, how precious each second of life is …how fleeting it is and how quickly it passes by. I still sometimes cannot quite believe that I have reached the age that I have. Where did all those years go? And, what do I really want to do with the time that I am graced enough to have left? What do I do until it is my time to be removed, cut down, let go of, pass on? Perhaps this increased sensitivity is a gift – so that I can focus on what truly feels important.

What has become more and more important to me has been to have quality time alone now that my focus is no longer on the job and career, having retired over a year ago. Quality time for me is quiet time to sit and listen to what may be going on inside me. What have I perhaps neglected all these years? What is this inner voice (that I am so grateful to still be able to hear, to know that it (I) is still there)…what does this inner voice have to say to me, to others? What can I express, both in verbal word and in written word, to share some of what I have learned, to share some of my experiences that some others may perhaps be able to relate to? What do I need to say? What do I need to express? What do I need to honor and acknowledge?

It seems to be a time of letting go. I have worked on my estate planning (strange experience, to plan and work with the idea of one’s own death). I have begun the long and challenging process of de-cluttering – how much I have hung onto and carried around with me that no longer serves a purpose…I think about where I should live, about possible retirement communities, about the declines that come with aging, about what and how to best take care of myself or be somewhere I can get some help if and when needed…..How, now when I think about where to live, I think about needing to be somewhat close to medical facilities…..not a consideration in my younger years….Each stage of aging brings new challenges and gifts, I think. Until the ultimate gift of needing to let go…..let go completely….of everything. Will anyone hold a piece of a memory of me anywhere? Does it really matter?

And so this lovely cedar tree has given me one final gift. The gift of acknowledging its end, of appreciating its life, of feeling the loss and once again opening up to all the losses that have come before and the losses yet to come….The gift of being in the present moment, feeling all that it brings (joyful and painful alike), of appreciating and breathing in the very gift of life.

A Moment of Kindness – A Reminder of All We Can Be

Now that I have been retired for over a year now (and what an interesting time to have retired…during a pandemic), I find that I have more time to notice the thoughts and memories that seem to so randomly populate my mind and flash up on my internal screen.

What I also notice is that I have a tendency to replay the negative scenes and continue to convict myself of the same crimes and issues with the same sentence of guilt and remorse. Indeed, I have done things in my life that I am less than proud of. I have not intended to hurt others, but I have – due to my own issues and insecurities. I regret those times and ask the Universe for forgiveness (where I cannot ask for forgiveness directly from others since they may no longer be available or I have no idea how to contact them or even know what their current name may be…). What, I then ask myself, will it take for me to finally forgive myself?

It’s interesting to me that it is so much easier (perhaps more familiar and well practiced) to replay those negative scenes and recriminations than it is to replay some of the brighter moments where the kind and loving pieces of me came through. Why do I feed my soul this diet of regret and remorse and guilt so much more easily than I feed it the nourishment of love and self compassion and self acceptance?

I think that I may not be alone with this. And I think, that for me, it is time to work on changing that. As I then decide to work on this, another memory comes up. A time when I was 19 and home from college for a summer. I volunteered once a week at a local nursing facility as their hairdresser (I was lucky enough to have a father who encouraged me to learn a skill that then enabled me to be able to support myself through college).

I had never been in a nursing home before. It was a shock to me to see the condition of some of the patients and how they lived, how alone they seemed, how at times neglected they seemed just sitting in their rooms staring off into space or at the tv without really seeing anything, It hurt my heart to see this. And so, with my youthful energy and belief that I could make some difference, I did my best to do everything with as much kindness as I could muster.

I remember one older woman that they brought to the room where I worked. She was in a wheelchair, hunched over, unable to speak or even sit up enough to look at me directly. I began to work on her hair. I gently washed it and combed it, all the while being intentional with touching her with as much kindness and love as I could. As I combed her hair, I notice that she had an accident (as I noticed urine leaking onto the floor). I called the staff for help, and as we waited for them to come and get her to help clean her, I kept gently combing her hair and softly touching her face with my hands.

As I kept doing this, she moved one of her hands to reach for my hand. I had no idea what she was going to do, and was a bit anxious about it, but let her do what she was trying to do. I moved my hand a bit closer to hers, and she took hold of it. I had no idea what was going to come next. She began pulling my hand toward her face…..I held my breath, hoping that I wouldn’t get hurt in some way. And she pulled my hand all the way to her mouth (I prayed that she would not bite me, as I was ignorant of what could happen, whether she was aggressive or not, so many unknowns)…..She brought my hand to her lips and kissed it ever so gently. She wanted to kiss my hand, to express some of what her reaction was to how I was touching and treating her. I stood there for a while, unable to move. Stunned. So touched and so full of emotions. I had reached out and touched another human being and we had connected. The moment was powerful, and one that I will never forget. When the staff arrived, I once again touched her face ever so gently and held her hand for a moment before they took her away. We touched souls, that dear woman and I. And she moved permanently into my heart.

I am beyond grateful to have had this experience. I am so very honored to have had that moment of grace. And, I am grateful for the memory that still can move me to tears when I think about it.

Yes, I have regrets and things that I wish I would have done differently. And I am here now, and trying to do better now. …though still quite imperfectly. But, I can also let myself acknowledge and remember the times that the light in my soul came through. And I can give myself some grace in what scenes that I choose to continue to replay in my mind and heart. Maybe we can all do this. We did what we knew to do at the time with things that we regret. And we have such loving special parts of us, parts of God/Universe that we all carry, that we also deserve and need to honor and remember. We have gone through some dark times and there will be more to come, but there is still much human kindness and love in this world, and inside of each of us. We are more than our mistakes. We are more than our regrets. We have much to give. By acknowledging and remembering these parts of ourselves, we then can perhaps allow them to come out more and more. We can come to each other, flawed and so very human, and we can love. We can love.

Fading decades…

I am struck lately by something that I have noticed for a while. There seems to be a broad category of “over 50” that now somehow covers everything post 50 and beyond. Although I am glad to see this category and group get the attention that it so deserves, I notice that as I continue my aging process, there are stages to aging. Each decade seems to bring its own unique flavor, with both its own challenges and gifts.

And so I am now in my late 60’s and beginning to see the emerging edge of 70! (I still can become shocked at the number that I don’t seem to identify with inside myself!) In my 50’s, I observed in myself a type of rebellion against the new sense of invisibility that I began to feel….a militancy within to challenge the stereotypes and labels that seemed to come with the “big 5-0”. And I appreciated that militancy and spirit within me.

I arrived at 60…and I noticed a shift. Now I started to become even more aware of the reality of mortality, the idea of age related changes, the swiftness with which time seemed to pass by more and more. I would say that for me it was less of a rebellion at this stage and more of a sense of surprise, some anxiety, some denial, and a beginning awareness of the need to somehow settle into this new phase, make peace with the inevitability of time passing, while still striving to figure out how to thrive as much as possible and be my best and still most passionate self.

And now I am eyeing 70 as it begins to make itself known to me with increasing reminders that is is just around the next corner – less than a few short years away. I have now created a living trust – hello mortality…..and I have begun to de-clutter (oh, so slowly) as I look at all the “things” that I have around me that really serve no purpose. I have boxes in the garage with things that I have not looked at in years. Tell me, how important can they be if I can barely remember what is in there? I go to the gym, but now it is so much more about keeping myself functioning to the best of my ability. I notice how I can wake up more stiff if I don’t keep moving this body of mine.

I notice that I appreciate the “little things ” (and my definition of what that means is evolving as well). I can delight in watching the small bird bath that I have out back …just enjoying the feeling of providing a place where my feathered friends can bathe and frolic. I enjoy a morning cup of coffee just sitting out in my back patio and listening to the birds, watching the antics of the squirrels, feeling a part of this incredible earth.

I am more sensitive these days, feeling more of the pain of others around me. I can barely pass a dead animal on the road without shedding a tear. I hate having to cut down trees, which sometimes becomes necessary for safety purposes. I feel more sensitive to all of life in its various forms. I go to visit the mausoleum where my mother’s remains are….and I find myself so aware of all the departed souls….the sadness of the other families who visit, the new “residents” who have recently passed that I notice each time that I visit. The inevitability of what we all must face when it is our time.

Each decade has its own lessons, its own messages, and needs to be honored for what it brings….pleasant and not so pleasant alike. I think that it may be more difficult for us to look closely at each decade once we are “over 50”. And so we sweep it all under one label. But, really, we can miss a lot that way – a lot of wisdom that comes with the pain, a lot of awareness that can be shared and, yes, even celebrated as a life that continues to be lived. We are still so very much alive. I am so very grateful. And I am grateful that we can now really talk and write and share about this journey more and more openly….to help each other feel less alone, to keep shedding light on the path for others yet to come.

Sunday morning musings…..

It’s a quiet, calm Sunday morning and I am struck by the moment. This moment. Which is all that we really have – this very moment that we are in. Nothing else is guaranteed or promised. Just this one precious moment.

I sit here with so many feelings. I feel gratitude. For my life, for all the choices (great and not so great) that have led me to where I am now. Each one brought me to now. Even those choices that I can look back upon with regret. Each challenge taught me something, even though I may not have been excited by the lesson at the time (understatement there….). Each is a piece of me.

I think about those pieces of me. I have thought that others, of course, cannot see what I see when I look in the mirror. Or when I look at a photo of myself that only captures a momentary frozen image. Yes, I am sometimes shocked when I see the age related changes in the mirror. I wonder why I would be shocked. I think that this partly has to do with the fact that I see not only what may be reflected back to me, but the history of all the images that I have seen reflected back to me in the mirror through the years. I can still see the little girl that I was, the young woman, the midlife woman, and now the aging woman in her later 60’s. All those parts of me are still there. I see who I am and who I have been. It is harder to see and imagine who I will yet become, and yet I now get glimpses….if I have the courage to look.

I can relate to so many others. Younger women (I have been there), women of my own age, and even women that are older, as I listen to their experiences and begin to more deeply understand what they speak of when they talk about their own lives and their own aging processes. I am so grateful that they share with me, as I am grateful when others listen to my story.

No one is just the reflection of what may be seen in the mirror, or what you see with a brief glance and then quickly categorize based on that glance. There is so very much more.

I am an older woman. I am a retired social worker. I am an artist, a writer, a playful soul, and at times a deeply sad soul who has been immersed in the grief that is an inevitable part of life and even more so as the aging process continues and the losses accumulate. I have been married, have been in other relationships, have been hurt and have unintentionally hurt others based on my own issues and insecurities. I can be quiet, introspective – and I can also be outgoing and long for companionship and deep listening. I can laugh easily, and I can cry easily…..more so as I get older.

I find that I feel more sensitive now….I can barely keep driving when I see an animal on the road that has been killed by a car. I can’t even watch commercials produced by the Humane Society…or commercials of children who are hungry or thirsty…. of commercials of the earth being destroyed and along with that, so many of its inhabitants from all species. My heart feels as if it will break. I cannot seem to contain the pain of the world. Especially lately.. It feels like too much.

I am aware of the need to find our own tribe. I reach out to others who I am pulled to, and begin to see where the connections will be made. I am more careful with who I spend my time with. Time is precious. I wish others well, but I now see that there are those who feel nourishing to me and those who feel draining. I don’t have time to squander. It’s quite liberating to let go of the guilt that has been associated with this for so long.

I am working to nourish myself more these days. As women (and some men, of course), we have been raised to nurture and give and care-take. I have done this, and am glad to offer this, but not to the exclusion of myself. I am beginning to more deeply understand the need to take care of myself, or there will be nothing left to give to others. We need to listen deeply to ourselves, to give ourselves the space and quiet and time to do this.

And so, on this Sunday morning, I am grateful. For life. For this moment. For each of you who may read this and possibly relate. Thank you for taking the time to read this – for hearing a piece of my story and of who I am. You also reflect who I am back to me…..a reflection that I cherish and appreciate.

Conditional compliments and “just kidding” comments…..No, thank you. I’ll pass.

I’ve been thinking lately (always a dangerous thing…..!) about things we get used to and accept without thinking or because we don’t want to appear too sensitive.

First of all, I am often told that I am very sensitive….to which I reply…..thank you so much. Although it may not have been intended as a compliment, to me it very much is. I am grateful for my sensitivity. It helps me to listen better, to understand better, to try and tread more lightly in the territory of others’ feelings and experiences. My sensitive nature is a gift, I believe. It made me a better social worker when I was still working, it makes me a better friend, partner, human being. If I am not sensitive to things that may hurt (at times, unintentional, but not always), then I will not hear another’s pain and experience. I will not, indeed, be able to hear my own inner voice and experiences. That, for me, would be a huge loss. So, I say to others in response……thank you if you think I am sensitive. Truly. It is my intention. I want to be sensitive to hear who you are and what is going on with you. And I would love the same from you.

So, as I continue to think about this….(there I go again!!), I think about comments that I have sometimes had some kind of inner reaction to, but not paid attention to. Until now. Comments such as “You look good for your age.” So…..I look pretty awful for another age? I only look good to you because you expect me to look differently due to my age? Please understand….I really don’t judge others when they say this, as I think it is with good intentions and a wish to express a positive thing to me. I appreciate that, I really do. But…..but…..it is a conditional compliment. Why not the comment…”You look good.” Or even, “You look particularly nice today.” I had a dear friend once say to me….(and he meant it with love) “You are an aging Italian beauty.” Hmmmm… I have no illusions about my age and that it shows and that I certainly look different than I did in my youth, of course. But, I wonder, what is the purpose of needing to remind me of my process of aging? Why the condition before or attached to the compliment? Do you think that I am unaware of my age and need to be reminded? I find it so very interesting. We even to it to ourselves. I participated in a group not too long ago (aimed at improving intergenerational communication) and one older participant referred to herself as “older that dirt”. I laughed and followed along, calling myself the same when it came my turn. It was not until another participant objected to this that I became aware of how easily I slipped into this pattern myself.

I also have a reaction to someone saying something that could be seen as hostile…..and negating my experience of it by saying “I am just kidding. Can’t you take a joke?” And of course it is often seen as a fault if you cannot take a joke. I disagree with this. No, I would like to say (and intend to more and more), I cannot and do not wish to “take a joke” at my expense. My father, wise man that he was, said “There are no jokes….pay attention to what people say and what their intention may be…” Indeed. What is the need to tease, with hostility (there is a difference between loving teasing that is between those that are close and who do not tease with comments that are below the belt, versus those who tease in areas that they may even be aware are touchy areas for us.) What would be the purpose of that kind of “teasing”? What does that do to our relationship? For me, it can reduce the trust and willingness to open up more sensitive areas of myself, for fear that they may then become the subject of jokes. No, thank you.

As I continue on this aging journey, I become more aware of sensitivities (and am so grateful for that), both in myself and others. Isn’t that what helps us grow closer to each other, to be able to share these with a trusted friend and have the trust held sacred? I am not suggesting that there is not much to laugh about with aging, as there really is. But, there is a way and time to use humor and to talk about it – to encourage the openness and honesty about it and be able to share some of the struggles and yes, at times. to laugh about it. A sense of humor is essential. Essential. But, I think we need to be careful when it crosses a line – when it comes at our own expense. That is where I draw the line more these days. Aging seems to be one of those areas where we can learn more sensitivity. Have we not learned that we don’t say “You are pretty strong…. for a girl…..”, “You dance well…. for a guy….”, “You are good at math… for a girl”, and other things that we had to learn to become aware about. So, maybe it’s time to look at this attitude toward aging. Can you see me without that label or putting me in that box? Can we learn to really see each other, really hear each other, understand each other more deeply and individually? I hope so. We can learn, share, and love so very much more if we are allowed to be free from all the boxes and labels. No kidding.