Good Bye to my 60’s

On the eve of my 70th birthday….WTF???

Photo by Andrew Umansky on Unsplash

Here I am, at4am, feeling the weight of this being my last day in my 60s. 

How the hell did that happen? Where did all those years go?

Yet, indeed, here I am. 

So it’s time to look this in the face, right here and right now,

First of all, I am grateful to still be alive. And functioning pretty well, as far as I can tell. I assume that someone might have noticed by now if that was no longer true. 

My neighbor, who recently turned 70 as well, and I, have decided to check on each other regularly to make sure we are still alive. She sees if my bedroom light comes on at the time when it usually does, both at night and in the morning. What once might not have felt so, now feels reassuring and amusing. Laughter is so essential at this time of our lives. 

I also make sure that I see her at some point during the day each day. 

So far we are both still here, both still kicking (even if not as high).

 I remember so many parts of my life, as I reflect on this, the eve of my induction into my 70s. 

I remember being the little girl, the only child of immigrants (from Sicily). The first generation American. Often feeling alone and somewhat lost and like I didn’t quite fit in anywhere completely. I’m not sure if I ever outgrew this completely. 

 I remember entering my adolescence and the roller coaster ride that this was, for both me and my parents. Me struggling to begin to carve out some sense of identity, and them struggling to let go of the child that they so wanted to protect from everything. 

I remember finally going to college, something I so very desperately wanted, to begin to feel a sense of independence from my very well meaning, but very restrictive, parents. Freedom, I thought. 

I remember finally saying my NO to my father, who had made the decision that we were going to move to Italy and had even begun inquiring into colleges in Italy for me to transfer to.

I remember, after having said that NO to him, having to support myself and put myself through school. 

I remember graduating from college with my Master’s degree in Social Work, still feeling completly unprepared for the role, the intensity of the work, and always carrying my companion, self doubt, right along with me.

I remember getting married, also still having no idea what I was doing or who I really was. 

And I remember 12 years later, getting divorced, wondering what the hell was happening to me and my life.

I remember moving several times, sometimes to a different state, changing jobs, continually struggling to find that solid sense of myself and my core. Sometimes feeling like I was getting closer to it, only to feel like major life events made me feel lost all over again. 

I remember all the romantic relationships that I have been in. I am grateful for them all. I sometimes wonder if being an only child in the particular family that I was in made it difficult for me to stay in any one relationship, feeling easily suffocated at times with intimacy. 

Funny, now I am still alone. Intentionally. Maybe I have made some peace with that part of myself. Maybe I did need to be completely out of any primary relationship for a while to finally come face to face with myself. My Self. 

Memories abound on this day.

And so does an awareness of some of the other changes that come with aging.

My body, which I have not had the best relationship with over the years, continues to change. Funny how much easier it can be to appreciate a past version (which I did not always appreciate at the time) than to appreciate the current older model that I see reflected in the mirror.

Things that I used to take for granted now come more into my awareness.

I don’t hop out of bed as quickly as I used to, now checking to see what ache or possible muscle stiffness I may need to attend to or stretch first. 

I become more intimately acquainted with where the restrooms are located wherever I go. My bladder and I are much more intimate these days. Not quite the intimate relationship that I had envisioned as being my primary one. Again, insert the sense of humor here. As I have stated before, I now realize what the term Golden Years refers to, as in the color of pee and its new major role in the day to day drama of life.

I look in the mirror and see a new and different version of my face, changing ever more quickly. I can still see the younger face (that I remember looking back at me) and I begin to see images of the older face, yet to be, that I am now becoming.

I chuckle at myself when I notice that I don’t like driving at night much anymore. My doctor says that I have baby cataracts (how cute) that are not developed enough to do anything about, but that are present enough to have an effect on my night vision. 

I laugh when I look around me when I go out to dinner, realizing that I like the early dinner times, and so do all the other older folks around me. We all leave as the younger crowd come in and as we prepare to go home and go to bed early. 

I try and keep laughing at myself when I forget why I walked into a room, or someone’s name, or what I was just about to say. Sometimes I scare myself with worries that it’s a sign of deterioration that will increase quickly. Other times I laugh and keep going. What choice is there? 

There are other changes too, that I see on this aging journey.

I am so much more connected to nature and all of its creatures. I can feel the pain of the earth, its trees and creatures, and all the cruelty that we have inflicted upon it.

I can feel the aching beauty of a sunset, feeling my own sunset and its glory as it approaches my own evening and nightime.

I can feel the still present sensuality of this aging body, the desires and exquisiteness of touch. Even a hug or simple touch on the shoulder can bring such delight.

I can feel my skin, see it becoming thinner, more fragile. And how it does its best to protect me still, even as it bruises more easily.

I can feel the need to slow down for caution’s sake. Needing to be careful to not fall.

And I also feel the joy and increasing awareness of everything around me that this slowing down brings that I did not take the time to notice in the fast-paced rushing around of youth.

I can see all the ages of those around me reflected in their faces. I now see the younger faces in my older friends. I now can see who someone is, and who they have been. 

I can see the kindness of strangers and feel it so much more deeply. I see those moments of connection that I now realize the significance of. Eternity wrapped in a moment of time.

I cherish the depth of friendships through the decades. Sometimes we keep in touch. Other times we pick up where we left off even if we haven’t been in contact for years. 

I love new friendships and the ability to connect. I find that aging helps me connect more deeply more quickly. Perhaps it is the awareness of the shortness of time that may be left and not wanting to waste any more of it. 

I am so much more grateful for each and every moment of life. Each of the remaining drops of nectar tasting ever more sweet as I realize that there will be an end to them. 

And I am grateful that I now feel more myself, more authentic, more genuine, than ever before. 

I let go of those that I do not find nourishing to my soul. Wishing them well, but not wanting to spend precious time carelessly. 

I am so grateful to be retired, and for the time to write and paint from my heart. To finally be able to be me, do what I want, spend time as I wish, and put myself at the top of the list of who to please. And that when I do that, I can love more authentically, more deeply, more completely. 

So, 70, ready or not, here I come. 70. Still going. Still living. Still breathing. Still loving life in all of its bittersweetness. 

The Gift of Sensitivity

An elder’s gratitude for the gift and pain of being too sensitive

Photo by Eduardo Barrios on Unsplash

I am so grateful to be sensitive. “Too sensitive” has been used as a statement toward me meant to somehow make me wrong, or less than, or defective.

My response these days to this comment ?

 I say thank you.

Thank you for seeing my sensitivity. It is one of my strengths. It is, I would venture to guess, perhaps one of the reasons that you may speak to me. Because you know that I will try my best to really hear you and understand what you are feeling. From my heart. 

I will be able to understand your pain because I have taken that journey myself, and have braced myself through the painful times and felt them. That takes courage. So thank you for recognizing the courage that it takes to be sensitive. And I encourage that for you. It is priceless, this sensitivity. 

It is not an easy road, being sensitive. It means allowing yourself to feel all the bumps, bruises, and deep losses that life brings our way. It means allowing yourself to sometimes sink into the pain and feel submerged in it. Trusting that you will emerge, because you know that you have come through this before. You have come through this, come through the pain more alive and attuned to life within you, around you, and within others. 

That is what I now will say to others, who care to listen, to what I feel about my sensitivity. How I embrace it. How I appreciate it. How I am so very grateful for it.

And now, as an elder (turning 70 in less than a week, which means more writing to come), I can pass along this hard earned wisdom to those that are younger that I see also struggling with this bittersweet gift of being too sensitive.

I volunteer at a local zoo, and a recent excruciatingly painful experience that I have been going through is the recent loss of one of our elephants. A very special creature that I have had the sacred honor to have known for 10 years.

The pain is deep, the hole is my heart is elephant sized.

 I allow it to wash over me, through me, grief coming like waves of the ocean. 

I also do my best to be present for the young zookeepers that I have the pleasure of working with and of being there for them, as we hold each other in our mutual pain and grief. 

One of these keepers, I can tell, is an extremely sensitive young woman. Tears are often just beneath the surface for her as she struggles with this harsh reality of life. 

Sometimes I simply go up to her and pull her in close and hold her for a moment. Which gives her tears permission to flow once again. We cry together. Each grieving alone and yet taking some comfort from each other.

She talked about feeling like she is too sensitive. 

And here I got the gift of being able to talk with her from my own heart, my own pain around this, my own past struggles, and my own blessed acceptance and embracing of this wonderful gift I have been given. 

I talked with her about her sensitivity being such a precious gift. 

I tell her that yes, she will feel pain acutely in her life, and will also feel the depths of joy in a way that only allowing herself to feel the pain can bring. That her life will be richer because of who she is. 

That I, much further along on the path of life that she is, can now see what this gift has given me through the years. What it continues to give me. That I wouldn’t change this part of me for anything. 

That I have been drawn to her since she arrived at the zoo, how I recognize those of my tribe. The too sensitive tribe. How special she is. How treasured she will be. What a gift to the world that she is and will continue to be. 

She cried a bit more into my arms, which was such a gift for me. 

She thanked my for my wisdom, which gave my tears even more permission to flow. 

I chose not to have children, and thus sometimes wonder about who might even want to hear what I have to say, what I have to share. What young people will want to hear what an elder woman has to say? Who will take the time?

I was drawn to stay longer at the zoo yesterday, not leaving at the end of my usual shift. I found myself wanting to stay longer to be with the elephants that are left, to share the space of missing Lisa with them. And wanting to stay for other reasons that I wasn’t exactly sure about.

And then this extraordinary encounter happened with this young zookeeper. After that, I felt ready to leave for the day. 

I treasure this moment in time that this special young woman and I shared together. This is a memory that I will take with me forever. This is a sharing of some of my experience that was heard, received, and taken in. That means more to me than I can adequately express. 

I was able to give a piece of me to someone who saw the value in it and who took some comfort in my words and presence. To let someone know how cherished they are, how special the gifts that they have been given are. How very lucky to be too sensitive. 

Writing From the Lost Place

Still in grief, feeling lost, drifting 

Photo by Anja Bauermann on Unsplash

Grief takes its own time. It will not be rushed, or planned, or forced into any shape or form. It will simply be. 

I have been in grief recently over the loss of a being that I have known for 10 years. A beloved elephant at our local zoo, Lisa, that was euthanized over a week ago. She had several ailments that come with aging, and the decision was made that her quality of life was not what it should or could be. And that we could not do anything more to help her, that all the treatments and medications and procedures were no longer helping. 

I struggle with the whole idea of euthanasia. Of course I don’t want beings to suffer, and yet it is also so difficult to know when and how that final decision is come to. How do we know? Those beings that don’t speak human language cannot tell us in words that they are ready to let go. 

I feel this loss deeply as I remember feeling all the losses that I have had. Each new loss brings up memories of all of the others. Each loss adds to the ache and emptiness inside, carving an even bigger hole in my heart. 

It is a deep ache inside my heart, my gut, my throat, behind my eyes. It is an ache that will not be comforted. It is a sorrow that must be gone through, not around. It is something that we all must face in our lives, more and more so as we get older. And eventually facing the loss of our own lives, our own selves as we know them. 

And so here I am grieving an elephant, drifting in grief.

 That can be hard to explain to others. But not to those who relate to animals and their non verbal, yet deep, way of connecting with us. Those who feel the spirit and companionship of our non human friends and fellow travelers on this earth. 

I now watch her elephant friend, Donna, who is left, and how lost she seems at times, how she is not herself. I cannot comfort her with words. I wonder, actually, if words ever really offer any comfort to any of us during times of deep loss. She, Donna, will do what are some of her normal activities, and then walk to the gate and wait to be taken back to the barn area where there are no guests. Where perhaps she can grieve in her own private way. And maybe hang out a bit with Osh, our male. Maybe they can bond a bit more around this loss. 

I feel pain for my loss, pain for the zookeepers’ loss. Those young people who worked with Lisa every day, took care of her, got to spend 8 hours or more every day with her. Who got to watch her struggle with her ailments yet see her still have spirit and spunk. Who got to give her lots of extra special treats the week before the euthansia was scheduled, knowing that this dreaded day was coming. Feeling the pre-loss. Watching her, loving her. Grieving when she would no longer be there. And now doing their best to take care of as well as to try and comfort Donna. 

Grief comes in waves for me, like the ocean. I never know when the next one will come. But I know that it will. And I let others around me know that I may break into tears randomly. It’s ok. It’s a testament to the depth of the love and loss felt. The size of this hole inside my heart. Tears are necessary for me. And I let them come as they will. I find myself telling others not to fear my tears or try and fix my sadness, that it’s ok. Some things cannot, and should not, be fixed. They are part of being human. They are actually a gift. Gifts are not always about pleasure. 

I have been feeling lost. Adrift as all these feelings wash over me. Questions stir inside me about life, death, aging…especially as I now soon approach my own 70th birthday. As I see my own functioning change, see my own declines. I am grateful to be relatively healthy, but also see the changes that happen over the years. Knowing, that if I am lucky enough to be able to live a while longer, that more changes will be coming. Age related changes. Until they stop coming because it will be my time to go. 

I love to write. I love to paint. It’s been a challenge to do either of these lately. So here I am writing to simply give the feelings some form, some outlet. Writing not as organized as I might like, not as eloquently as I might like. But write I must. 

 I have also slowly begun a painting of Lisa, to somehow allow myself to paint some of my grief onto the canvas. My tears will be part of this painting. My sadness will be reflected in Lisa’s eyes. Grief will form its own colors on the palette and portrait. It hurts to paint her portrait. I think it might hurt more not to. 

This aging process is quite the journey. The longer we live, the more losses we get to feel and see around us. Friends and family leave us. Animals that we love leave us. Winters come and leaves die and fall from the trees. 

One challenge is how to keep living as fully as we can. How do we contain this reality of mortality within us and keep going? How do we find a place to hold our grief and also keep other space open for more life and love? 

For me, I think that it’s important to give full expression to my grief. To allow the feelings of drifting and feeling lost to be inside me and simply be with them. And to also know that time will lessen the intensity after a while. And to know that, if I am blessed enough to keep living for a while, that I am still here to keep appreciating each precious moment that I may still have left. Each breath is a gift. Each day is a gift. Each experience is a gift. My life is a gift. One that will end. And that makes it even more precious. 

Elephant Size Grief

Lisa, a beloved elephant at our local zoo, was euthanized yesterday

Photo by Geran de Klerk on Unsplash

It is with a heavy heart, the announcement from our zoo read, that Lisa elephant was humanely euthanized yesterday

She was getting older, had several ailments, and was declining in health.

How is it that even though I knew that this was coming, the shock still comes? How does one contain grief that is the size of an elephant?

I have volunteered at our local zoo for almost 10 years now. I am on the Behavior Observation Team for the elephants. I get the privilege of watching these wonderful animals for two hour shifts and recording their behavior. We use the data to keep learning about them as well as to make sure that they are ok and to try and give them the best life possible. 

I have come to know and love these majestic creatures. When I first started volunteering there, we had 4 elephants. Three females and one male. Three years ago we suddenly lost one of our females. A shock, a wave of grief, and so much sadness. I grieve her still. 

And yesterday, Lisa left us. 

The day before, the zookeepers and volunteers and others who loved her spent extra time being near her, feeding her all of her favorite treats. Loving her as much as possible.

 I am so grateful to have been invited and to have been among those who got to spend that extra time with her that day. I hadn’t realized, until I was there, how important it was to be with others during the shared grief and pain. We held each other, crying together. It is a pain that, although each of us bears alone, we also share with each other in deep understanding. Together in our grief, as well as witnessing and honoring each other’s solitary pain.

Standing in front of Lisa, I found myself trying to soak up her very presence, to memorize even more each detail of her being. Each breath of her spirit. She was already in my heart, as all the elephants have been and are. I wanted to take her in even more deeply if I could, to keep her spirit alive within my being. To keep her inside of me when she was gone. 

She was 46. She had been with us since she was 2. We all became home to each other. 

 Elephants live longer in the wild than they do in captivity. They can live up to 60 or longer in the wild. 

There is a movement going on these days to have elephants (that need to be rescued and that can no longer live in the wild) be taken to live in sanctuaries and not in zoos. I agree with this. To go where they will have more room and space to be who they are. To be able to walk as much as they need. To be among their herds. To live the best life possible.

Our zoo does the best that they can to provide all of our animals with a good life. They have more space for most of the animals than most zoos are able to provide. They are involved in education and conservation. They are connected with an elephant sanctuary in Africa that they raise funds for. I am glad for all of this, and also realize that it is still a zoo. Not a perfect environment for an elephant. 

These elephants are cared for with much love. Lisa had received many different treatments for her various ailments, including an innovative stem cell treatment in hopes that it could help her. But, it was not enough to stop the decline. Not enough to stop the pain of her body getting more and more tired.

 It was determined it was finally time. What an awful decision to have to make. 

I still struggle with the idea of euthanasia. I understand that we don’t want animals to suffer, and yet, it is so very hard to come to that final decision. To finally say it is time. I saw the struggles that the staff went through, the tears.

I love Lisa. I miss her so very much. I don’t know where to contain my deep grief. It gets caught in my chest, my throat, my gut. Tears come randomly and whenever and wherever they like. I let them flow. I want to honor how much she meant to me. I want to allow the grief its space to be. 

It makes me think of all the losses, grieving, and mortality of us all.

I approach my 70th birthday soon. I think about changes that happen in our bodies as we age. Treatments for what we can help. Acceptance for what we cannot. Realizing that I also will have my date to pass on. To leave this body that has been loaned to me. 

One of the gifts and curses of this aging journey is this awareness of our own mortality. It become more real with each passing year. With each new ache or stiff joint. With each new sign of aging that can be seen in the mirror. That can be felt in our bodies. 

I cry for Lisa. I hope that she can meet her friends and family and herd beyond. I am not sure what I believe anymore, but if there is something after, I wish her joy in the reunion. 

I cry for all the losses that I have had of pets, of family, of friends. The losses come faster and faster these days. The ever increasing companionship of grief that comes with aging.

I sometimes cry with the thought of my own eventual death. The thought of leaving this life that becomes more precious each day. To leave this beautiful earth and all that it contains. To no longer be part of this life that I come to appreciate more each year. Especially knowing that there are far fewer years ahead of me now than there are behind me. 

And so we go on, those of us who are still here. 

We grieve, we hurt, we cry. We miss those who have left us. We carry them inside of us. 

These elephants have taught me many lessons over the years. Lessons about being in the moment. Lessons about being who and what you are. And now, one final lesson comes from Lisa. How to live until we die. 

Maybe we can remind ourselves to keep living as much as we can until it is our time. Lisa did not know when her last day would be. She kept living and enjoying all the treats that she could until the last moment. Maybe we can learn to do the same. 

Thank you, Lisa, for having allowed me to be in your life. To be in your presence. For gracing me with your spirited essence.For teaching me about not being shy to let it be known how you felt. 

You would throw sticks toward someone who, for some reason, may have been irritating you. You drenched one of the zookeepers years ago with a trunkful of water when you were displeased with his blowing bubbles at an event that was being held. Such laughter and giggles all around from everyone who saw this, including the very drenched keeper himself. 

I want to learn that more, setting limits and boundaries where needed. Expressing displeasure and irritation when needed. Symbolically hosing someone down when needed! Being myself. Thank you again, Lisa, for showing me this. 

And thank you, life. For allowing me to experience you. For each moment. I will try not to waste any of them. To remember and to honor Lisa. To honor myself. 

Embracing Our Inner Elder

Learning to see our inner elder with courage, compassion, and openness

Photo by Centre for Ageing Better on Unsplash

We have been taught to look back and look within so as to speak to and have compassion for the child that we once were. The inner child. This is a good thing to do, in my opinion. To understand why we learned how to cope as we did, how we learned to survive. How we got to where we are. To see who we have been in order to be able to better understand who we are now.

It occurs to me that it is also important to look forward and learn to embrace our inner elder. Our inner, much older version of ourselves that, if we are lucky enough to live that long, we will become. 

 Perhaps we can begin to visualize that older version of ourselves now. To picture them sitting in front of us, talking with us. To help us see what may lie ahead. To help us to begin to listen to what that future version of ourselves may have to tell us, to teach us. Teach us right here. Right now. 

What would that inner elder have to say to us? What would they point to as important? What would they gently (or perhaps more forcefully, depending on your particular version of what your older self is like) tell us to disregard? 

What will they tell us that we will we want to remember as we look back in our lives? What will we wish we had paid more attention to? Less attention?

 Who will we wish were still part of our lives, if possible? 

What will we wish we had said, done? 

Where will we wish that we had traveled to? 

What conversations will we wish that we had? And others that we may wish we had not? 

What will we wish we had been able to forgive? Especially to forgive in ourselves? 

What laughter will we have delighted in? What pleasures will we remember and perhaps wish we had allowed ourselves a bit more of? 

What silliness will we wish we had participated in more so that we can have that laughter and delightful memory later? Memories to help bring smiles during some of the darker days to come?

What other memories will we wish that we created? 

What dances will we wish that we allowed ourselves to participate in? Risking awkwardness to embrace the utter delightful joy of dance. 

What adventures will we wish that we had taken, while we still had the strength and ability to do so? 

What regrets will we wish that we had dealt with? 

What will we want written in the book of our life? Will each chapter be as full as it can be? Will there be room for both light and dark, each lived fully in the moment?

Will we have loved as completely as we could? Will we have allowed ourselves to be loved? 

Will we have risked looking foolish and making mistakes so as to live passionately? 

Will we have inhabited our precious lives as fully as possible?

Looking in the mirror at our elder selves, will we wish that we had embraced the way that we look right now, in this ever changing reflection?

Will we regret the harsh judgments of these bodies that we have been loaned? Not having appreciated their flawed, but wonderful, imperfections? Their delightful sensuality, touch, feel?

Perhaps we can be brave and venture looking into the mirror and visualizing our older selves. 

And rather than lamenting each new line, wrinkle or sign of aging, maybe we can try and see that older face and learn from it. Talk to it. Talk to who we want to become more and more as we age. Have the courage to face what is coming so that we can have some voice in who that will be. 

I have worked on getting to know my inner child. And I am grateful for that. 

I have learned to embrace my inner bitch, the parts of me that have been angry and never allowed myself to fully express righteous rage and own my power that way.

And now, I will take the step to befriend my inner elder. I think she, like these other parts of me have taught me, has a lot to say.

I am beginning to listen. 

The Strength to Own Increasing Fragility

Accepting and learning to deal with changes of aging so as to remain as vital and as healthy as possible

Photo by alpay tonga on Unsplash

I become more aware these days of changes in my body that come with aging. 

I recently had an experience, while traveling, of injuring a finger. I hardly would have paid attention to what seemed like such a minor injury in my younger days, and did not initially pay attention to this one at the time. Until my body let me know that I needed to pay attention. Until the doctor that I saw talked to me about the fragility of our fingertips. Until this doctor, whose first question was how old I was, let me know that it was good that I had contacted him, as I had a severe infection that would have continued to spread had I not addressed it. He lanced it and prescribed two antiobiotics. For an injury that I can’t even remember the details about as to how it happened. 

I have been used to taking my body and its healing powers for granted. Minor injuries not even noted as I continued along with my day or activity.

Not so much anymore, I am learning.

My skin is thinner, more prone to injuries and deep bruises. 

The other morning I began to hop out of bed, only to find that the room began spinning around and I had to lie back down until it stopped, about 30 seconds later or so. What was this, I wondered. 

Staying well hydrated has never been one of my strengths. And my body has been fairly forgiving of me, as far as I know, up until now. It turns out being dehydrated and getting up quickly can cause some dizziness (orthostatic hypotension). I am lucky to have a friend who is a nurse.

Another lesson in paying closer attention to self care these days.

Balance can be an issue these days. I seem to be able to trip more easily (I remember removing all the small rugs in my mother’s home as she began to fall more). I need to slow down, pay more attention. 

I am learning that I need to pay closer attention to each activity, each movement, each bump and bruise. Things that I am used to never giving a second thought to. Healing powers of youth that I took for granted are no longer with me. 

I have lost some hearing, more in my left ear than in my right. I now wear a hearing aid in my left ear. And, even with that, I find that I can struggle in rooms with certain acoustics and distracting sounds. I need to speak up about this, to ask for any modifications that might be made. Asking if the speaker at an event can possibly use a microphone. I see others of my age nodding their heads in silent agreement to my request. 

Not only do I need to acknowledge the changes occurring, I find that I now need to get better at speaking up about needs that I may not have had before. This has not always been a strength of mine. Time to practice this one more. 

My body gets stiffer and less flexible these days, and realize that not only do I need to keep exercising, but I also need to work on flexibility and stretching. Something else that I have taken for granted. 

And if I name and own these new changes, I can better prepare and deal with them, possibly avoiding further injury or damage. It’s harder to heal what you cannot name. 

In addition to the physical changes, there is the increase in my emotional sensitivity. I have always been a sensitive person. Something that I have been criticized for in my life that I now realize is one of my strengths. One of the gifts that I can give to others. One of the gifts that helps me connect with the earth around me as well as all of its creatures.

And, as I am lucky enough to still be alive and aging, I notice that my sensitivity is also growing. More sensitive to pain around me. More sensitive to the suffering and violence of the world. More sensitive to nuances in others (human and other) that tell of pain or suffering that I may not have noticed before. More awareness of my own grief at increasing losses that come along with aging. More awareness of the ever increasing companionship of grief. More awareness of mortality. Death. Endings. 

This increased sensitivity can be challenging. It can also be a gift. A gift that helps me appreciate, on a much deeper level, all that is around and within me. Appreciate each moment of life. 

I can deny all these changes, and risk serious injury. Or I can, reluctantly I admit, own them. Own them and learn to deal with them and make changes to adapt to them. So that I can keep living my fullest, healthiest life while I am still blessed enough to be alive. 

How I live my life daily may need to change, in order that I can keep embracing what life that I can. Doing all that I can, with perhaps new limitations and conditions. And with a new speed. Slow. 

Slow down. Pay attention. To myself. To my environment. To others around me. To my life these days as it presents itself. To the changes in me. And to the life that is still mine to live, perhaps more slowly. With more awareness and gratitude. Gently, tenderly, slowly. One step and one breath at a time. 

The Storm Before the Calm

Breathing through the storms of emotions and letting them flow

Photo by Marcus Woodbridge on Unsplash

We usually talk about the calm before the storm. Today I am aware of the opposite within me. The storm before the calm.

I recently returned from a wondrous trip to Baja to be among the grey whales there. It was magical, being among these incredible magical creatures. Being graced with their presence right beside us, having the calves even come close to our small boats to allow touch. 

And now I am home and have been so very unsettled. Restless. Difficulty focussing. Unable to complete tasks or begin the never ending projects that seem to be part of being home.

Perhaps it is partly because I was in such a magical place. Re-entry from vacation has always been challenging for me. Even now, I find that to be true, when I don’t have to go back to work, given that I am retired. 

It can be hard to go back to whatever “normal” is after such a wonderful experience. It can be hard to go back to having to figure everything out each day for yourself. One can get spoiled having your day planned for you, your meals prepared, your adventures planned and taken care of. Being able to shed the responsibilities of self care for a brief time. Having someone else take care of life’s details for you for a moment. 

I have been so unsettled since coming home. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Being settled can be overrated, I think. 

And yet, it has been so uncomfortable living with the feelings that this brings. 

And, I find, I have added to the discomfort by trying to pressure myself to just get on with it, get back into the routine and structure, get back to life as it is when I am , once again, home alone. 

Pressuring myself to get over whatever was going on. Get past it. Pull up my bootstraps and deal with it.

That simply did not work. 

So yesterday, I let of of the expectation of getting anything done on the never ending list. Just let go. Sat there. Talked with a friend, which helped ease some of the angst of some issues that have been coming up more for me lately. I let myself share a bit. And I was heard. I am grateful. 

So then I let myself hear me as well. And just took the pressure away of needing to do anything yesterday. Gave myself permission to simply be wherever it was that I needed to be. Even if I didn’t really know what that was.

And this morning, I woke up calmer. I seem to keep re-learning the lesson of listening to whatever is going on inside and simply letting it be. Letting the storm pass through. Being still in the center of the discomfort. Realizing that simply riding out the storm is all that I can do in that moment. 

I think that this is part of what aging is teaching me more and more. To allow whatever is going on inside me to simply be. To allow space for internal emotions and feelings, even if I am not able to name them immediately. To allow space for my spirit to express some of the storms inside , storms that have passed through me all of my life. Storms that may have lessons that will not be named for a bit. Storms that are part of my journey in this life.

During the whale trip, I asked the guides if they ever cancel the whale watching for a day because of the weather. Oh yes, they responded, when the wind reaches a certain strength, the lagoon is shut down for the day

Maybe we can learn from that. Maybe we can learn to shut down all the other parts of life, as much as we can, and simply watch the storm and be with ourselves until it passes. 

Storms are part of weather. Storms are part of life. Storms are part of us. I can appreciate grey skies as much as the beautiful blue skies. They actually help me appreciate the blue skies even more. 

Grey skies help me go within and get quiet to hear and listen to whatever the current storm may be about.

I have more to explore, as I continue this aging process.

Some of my current storms are beginning to get names. 

Turning 70 next month. This one really stirs me up inside.

The fact that I lived out of a duffel bag for a week while on vacation. And that was all that I needed. Then coming home to a house full of stuff, much of which I do not really need. The urge to purge is real. More and more as I age. Time to let go of what is unnecessary. So I can appreciate more what is right in front of me, so I can travel light on this final path before me.

Having an experience on my trip of getting an infection that I knew needed to be treated soon. Having been able to see a local doctor who came to the hotel to treat me and prescribe much needed antibiotics. The kindness of strangers. The importance of being paid attention. The ability to take care of myself enough to know when I needed a doctor right then and there,

The experience of having fairly significant periods of pain from this infection, of having to wait for a few days (and having judged that this would be ok to wait for a few days, also with the help of a fellow guest on the trip who happened to be a nurse). We were a 6 hour drive away from the town we flew into, and 6 hours away from a local doctor. The challenges of how to live with some pain and still enjoy each day to the fullest. To not miss one whale trip out on the boats.

 Perhaps this is a lesson in living with the changes and challenges that aging can bring. And keep on enjoying what we can. While we can. 

To acknowledge the pain and struggles that are real. And keep on living as fully as we can. Ride out the storms until they pass. Be still, be quiet, and keep breathing. Keep living. Keep enjoying this exquisitely beautiful life, storms and all. 

The Wonder of Whales

Back from a trip to see the whales of Baja. Still in pure awe.

Photo by Thomas Lipke on Unsplash

I was lucky enough to take a trip to see the whales of Baja, Mexico. Up close and personal. 

I had been on whale watching trips before, and loved them. But those trips were to see whales from more of a distance.

This trip was something else all together.

Traveling alone, and being older, I feel more comfortable going with a group where we are taken care of and guided the whole way. I traveled with Natural Habitat Adventures. They are wonderful, and I also feel good that they are connected to the World Wildlife Fund, which I support. 

The older that I get, the more connected to the earth that I feel. And the more that I want to do my small part in trying to help heal and conserve her beauty. 

So there we were . A group of 15 of us, most of us being older folks able to travel now and enjoy some of the things that we didn’t perhaps have the opportunities to enjoy while younger and working full time, raising families, tending to responsibilities. People, in this particular group, from all over the US and Canada. Couples and singles as well.

Off we went to the Whale Camp. Staying in cabanas where each cabin had one light that they requested be turned off at 10pm. Most everything was solar powered and power was conserved wherever possible. We were able to recharge our various devices in the main cabana, where we would all gather to eat, listen to educational talks about the whales and about the area. WE became a temporary family for that week in time. 

Windy and chilly at night, we learned to truly love the softest flannel sheets that I have ever experienced, and snuggle under layers of blankets. Stepping out at night to a sky completely filled with stars. Breathtaking.

Twice each day we would go out on the skiffs to see the whales. Huge grey whales. Mamas and their calves. Males and their magnificent breaching. 

And, as we would hold our breath, we would wait to see if any of the whales would want to come up to our boats to interact with us. Their choice. As it should be.

The calves were curious, coming closer to the boats with their mamas close by keeping an eye on everything. And they came, these calves. Right up to the boats. Raising their heads up enough to allow touch. Rubs and gentle scratches seemed to bring them pleasure. And the laughter and reactions from those of us of the human species on the boats was contagious and expressed a delight that really has no words adequate to describe it.

To experience touching and interacting with such a different species and to feel the connection in that moment is magical. To watch and feel a boat full of seniors suddenly become delighted children once again. To watch and feel and touch each other, these whales and us. To inhabit the same space in time together connecting in a way that has no words, needs no words. 

I am in awe of these magnificent creatures. Gliding close by us in our boats so gracefully as if in a water ballet. Spouting and spraying us. Diving under our boats to resurface on the other side. Most likely laughing at all of us quickly rushing from one side of the boat to the other in hopes of those precious moments of contact. 

Watching the breaching and magnificent displays. 

Watching as they raised their heads above the water and stayed there to get a look at all that was going on around them. 

Calves rubbing up against their mothers to reassure themselves that their mothers were still there and then coming back to us.

 These are very tactile creatures, we are told. Much touching of each other. And giving us such a gift of allowing touch between us. Two tactile species saying hello. A touch of love. 

There is much that I want to share and write about regarding this incredible trip. And I will. 

But for now, I am still floating in awe and wonder. 

I am amazed at how precious moments of such a sacred and magical nature can seem to erase all the surface differences between us. Can make age insignificant. Can make race and culture and state of being partnered or not…insignificant. Can make all those things that we have used to divide us…insignificant.

 These moments can make all the daily worries and stresses step aside for a while, as we become absorbed in the sacred moment of interspecies connection and relationship. To realize we are part of this sacred dance of life. All of us. There is no division. There is no us and them. No young and old. There is a sacred “we” as we are all in this one moment, touching each other, right here and right now. 

When Did Being Average Become Less Than Ok?

Competition, gold medals, grading, comparison. Endless messsages that we are not good enough.

Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash

I am struck these days by how much competition is part of almost everything that we do.

Gold medalists. First prize. Best of the best. Blue ribbons. 

Not to say that all competion is bad. It can help motivate, create some fun and incentive, and be useful.

But not to an extreme. Not about everything, Not when we use it to further compare ourselves to others and come out feeling less than, feeling not good enough.

I remember the movie about Mozart years ago. Amadeus. The story was told by Antonio Scalieri, another composer of that time, who, not being a genius like Mozart, was continually tormented by comparing himself to Mozart. At one point, with a line that I will never forget, he lamentingly referred to himself as the “king of mediocrity.”

This comparison can be insidious. This validating only the champions can be destructive to our self esteem, if we let it. 

Don’t get me wrong. I love cheering on champions, will root and scream for the home team to win. I am, after all, a product of this society. And it can be fun.

However, there is a dark side that I believe needs to be named. The feeling that since we are not the best, we stop ourselves from even trying to do things that may bring us joy. And that joy should be reason enough for us to try things. 

Since retiring, I am delighted and grateful to be able to do some things that I love. Writing. Painting. 

And even there I find the constant internal comparisons going on. I am an amateur. I have not had formal education or training in art. I have not been in shows, have not won competitions. 

And yet, something comes through me when I paint, and I feel connected to a deeper part of me than I have before. I am allowing that part to express herself. Finally. And there are some who are touched by my paintings. I am grateful.

I love to write. I have not written a book. I have not taken formal writing courses. And yet, as with my painting, something comes through me that feels as if it taps into my very soul. I find that I must write to sort out all the intricacies, for me, of being human. I write to finally hear and express my voice. My Voice. And some respond to things that I write. I touch something in them that relates and resonated with what I write. Again, I am grateful. 

And now I see that this constant comparison can even apply to our process of aging.

There is a good way to look when aging. The best way to age. The models are often still on the gorgeous end of the spectrum. Slim figures, faces still conforming to what are judged as beautiful. Referred to as aging well. It seems that we are even graded on how we age. How did she let herself go?

If we exercise, we should look good doing it. Or be a clown to be laughed at. Perfection or ridicule seem to be the choices offered.

 If we dance, it can be laughable, or cute.

I do not wish to be either. I have not ever, nor ever will aspire to, the label of cute. I am a woman of substance, both physically and in other ways. Not to be taken lightly. Not to be condescended or spoken down to. Not to be cast aside. 

And we are judged no matter which choices we make. If we color our hair, we should embrace going grey. If we get plastic surgery, we should allow ourselves to age naturally. If we don’t get plastic surgery, then the caption can read time has not been kind

If we look younger than our age, we are complimented on not looking our age. So what does that say if we look our age? And why is looking our age a bad thing? 

Aging is a competition that cannot be won. We will all age. We will all die.

 Life is a competition that cannot be won. We will all age. We will all die. We may be remembered for a while or not. So what? We will be gone. 

We are here now. In our glorious imperfection. In our amazing averageness. In our imperfect perfection. In our humanity.

For me, I am going to work to express who I am, what I love to do. Judgments be damned. It’s all ok, as long as I am not hurting anyone else. 

I want to embrace each moment of this precious life. And even more so, as the time grows shorter on the road left ahead. 

I have no gold medals, no blue ribbons. I am average. How very delightful. And, to have the company of so many others who are average. 

Others who are beautiful in their own ways. With their own unique talents and perspectives and voices. I am delighted to be among them, champions of life. Each and every one of us. 

Feeling Alone

Sometimes it’s hard to feel the aloneness

Photo by Diego San on Unsplash

I firmly believe that we need to feel all of our feelings. All of them. In order to live our fullest, most present life.

Sometimes, though, it’s hard to feel some of those feelings.

I woke up feeling so very alone this morning. 

It’s not that I don’t have dear friends and a social network. I do, albeit small. I don’t do large groups well. A small network of more intimate friends works better for me.

And sometimes, a feeling of such deep aloneness (which feels very different than loneliness for me) floods over me and overwhelms me.

Like it did this morning.

I feel the vastness of the world around me. The busy movement of life around me. Young people going to work. My young neighbors tending to their sweet families. My older neighbor (as in my age) and her children and grandchildren and all of their partners. 

I am alone. I have, for some reason, seemed to work to achieve this in my life. Growing up had some challenges for me, as it does for us all. I craved a sense of peace and tranquility and acceptance of myself. Closeness to others meant feeling judged as less than, as not good enough. 

I’ve been married, and am grateful for that experience and for the sweet man who was my husband. He remarried and went on to have two sons. We, when married, had decided to not have children. Interesting. I’m glad he found someone to share his life with that perhaps matches him better than I could. 

I have always been blessed with dear friends along this path of my life. Some of them are gone now. I miss them very much. Sobering, this death thing.

I now, being retired for almost three years, have time to devote to things that I love. Writing. Painting. Being in nature more. Maybe even a bit of travel to look forward to. I am grateful.

And yet there are times when I find it hard to get satisfaction. From anything. When that dreaded question What’s the point? comes up.

Although I have found that I can validate myself more these days, there are still those times. Times when I doubt everything. Times when I feel lost. Times when I feel frozen.

 Times when I deeply feel my place moving up in that line of waiting to die. 

Times of wondering what the rest of my path will be. What age related changes will keep coming? What do I have to show for this precious life that is winding down? What difference have I made to anyone? To the earth?

I don’t have any answers. Yet I keep moving and keep going on. This feeling is with me, often. 

I know that there are other feelings that are within me as well.

Feeling connected to the earth and its creatures. Sometimes in a way that is deeper than any connection to people. 

Feeling like I am finally letting my soul speak when I write, when I paint. Grateful to still be alive and have time to do those things.

Grateful for dear friends who can hear and share some of these feelings with me. We help each other feel a bit less alone for a few moments. 

Grateful to be able to volunteer at our local zoo with the elephants. They teach me about being in the moment. They bring me comfort and quiet some of the noise in my head.

Grateful for friends who are drawn to some of my paintings. Who see a piece of me in those canvases.

Grateful for readers who comment that some of my writing has touched them in some way. 

Grateful to still be alive and on this earth. Feeling the preciousness of each moment that I am still granted. 

Grateful for all the feelings. 

Grateful for life.