The Challenge of Self Forgiveness

It can be so hard to stop blaming and punishing yourself

Photo by Tolga Ulkan on Unsplash

I am struggling, and have been for some time now. 

I had two kitties for 17 years. And two weeks after I retired, which was over two years ago, one of them, Rocky, got sick. It was the time of having to wait outside the emergency vet hospital all night, without being able to be with your pet. The pandemic added to the pain and fear.

The vets kept telling me that Rocky was very sick. But, when I did finally get to see him the next morning, he didn’t look nearly as sick as I thought he might. I was tired from being up all night outside, still reacting to retirement, still in a state of shock about it all, about everything in my life feeling like it had turned upside down. 

I allowed them to convince me that we had to put him down. I will always regret that. And, 6 months later, my second kitty, Rusty, succumbed to the cancer that I believe grew out of his deep grief for the loss of his companion of 17 years. 

I felt like I lost everything. Those two kitties had been my heart, my connection to touch, to a love that only an animal can bring to your life. Not having been in a relationship for a while, they were my lifeline to a deep connection that was always there with me. Even in the wee hours of the morning, those hours that can bring a unique kind of aloneness to your soul. 

I blame myself still. I wish I had brought Rocky home and just watched him for a bit. Taken him to the regular vet for more help and another opinion. But, I did not. I gave in to the authority of these emergency vets who did not know Rocky. Did not know his resilience. Did not know. And I feel like I knew differently, but let myself be convinced otherwise.

I have been taught early on to give up my power to authority. My parents were immigrants and old school, and I felt no power or voice in the family. Being the only child, I learned to do what I perceived that I had to in order to survive. Lay low. Don’t rebel, as it will only make matters worse.

I learned that lesson all too well. I have spent much of my life trying to please others, which of course, never really works. 

I am working on reclaiming my voice, finally. But, not in time for Rocky. Not in time. 

Not in time for my mother. 

The oncologist put my mother on hospice when she refused treatment for her breast cancer. The doctor thought that she would have much more time than the 6 months that hospice usually allows (and they do make extensions as needed, I know). She died three months later. 

Hospice had been generous with the morphine, I believe. And I did not intercede enough to advocate to make sure that they weren’t over medicating her. Although she spoke English fairly well, it was not her first language. Did they really assess her pain correctly? She was in assisted living at that point, close to where I was working, so I could visit frequently. But, I now feel that I wasn’t as involved in conversations with hospice as I could have and should have been. The “coulda shoulda woulda” syndrome.

It frustrates me how I can easily give up my power, my agency, my voice. How compliant I have been and can still be in times of crisis when my defenses are low. 

And the pain of loss is made deeper still by the regrets and remorse. 

So this then is the challenge. How to forgive myself. How to allow the pain of the grief, but not heap on more with the added burden of regret and self recrimination. 

I am working on it. I write. I paint. I am finding my way back to my voice that was quieted so early on. I am showing up more. 

I cannot go back and change what happened. And I cannot go on whipping myself with the regret and self blame. So, I pray. And I sit quietly and breathe. And I cry, with what seem to be tears that have no end. 

The challenge is to know that I did the best that I could, given the resources that I had at the time, including internal resources that were very stretched. I did love, and I did not fight as much as I could have. And I need to forgive myself, or I will also then give up on myself and living my own best life. Letting go of all this is hard. Hanging onto it is beginning to feel even harder. 

We are imperfect human beings, struggling at times to do what we can. We make mistakes. We don’t always make the best choice. We fall short of our best. 

We need to forgive and keep living, move on. to have compassion for ourselves and our past selves. Because we are still alive, still here. And maybe, just maybe, we can learn. And by accepting our imperfections and faults and really look at the lessons they bring, maybe we can also learn to do better. 

No, I Can’t Take A Joke

(Not at my own expense. The poking fun at elders that is sometimes not so funny.)

Photo by Reno Laithienne on Unsplash

I have been called too sensitive in my life.

These days, when someone tells me that I am sensitive, I say thank you.

Because being sensitive is a gift. A gift that helps me connect with others. Helps me understand their pain. Helps me be with them. Helps me empathize. 

It also makes me bristle at some of the ageism that I see around that is supposed to be funny. Ageism that makes fun of seniors, and that , in my opinion, does harm to our image. Externally and internally.

Yes, things about aging are funny. And a sense of humor is vital at this time of our lives. Laughter is often the best response. I laugh at myself and with my friends often. The memory issues, the joints that don’t work quite as well as they used to. The age related changes that come, that we must learn to cope with and deal with. It’s part of life and it can be funny at time. 

But not when it is at our expense. 

I see Medicare commercials that make me cringe. 

The older woman, “Martha”, who is called “cranky” and is portrayed as stubborn and unwilling to see the benefits of what the narrator is trying to show her about the Medicare advantage plans. She yells, pouts, crosses her arms over her chest, and is the caricature of a cranky old woman.

The couple where the wife is yelling at her husband, asking why he hasn’t called Medicare to get the newest part C plan. She goes on to tell him of all the benefits of this new plan, what it covers, why they need it. My question is this. If this woman is so knowledgable and informed, I have to wonder what makes her incapable of making a phone call herself? Ageism and sexism team up here.

The two older women who are calling Medicare together and the younger woman on the other end of the call laughing at their antics and arguments with each other during the call. They are subtly portrayed as cute. “Cute” can be deadly. It can make someone less than the other, inferior, not to be taken seriously. 

I may be told that I am being too sensitive. That I take things too seriously. However, when these portrayals, stereotypes and caricatures end up becoming the lens through which elders are often seen, there can be harm done here. 

There is invalidation of the whole person, the life experience, the whole fabric of their being. It can end up protraying them (us) as a shadow and comic version of who we were. Something to be laughed at, indulged (like a child), tolerated and condescended to. Not a whole living being with a lifetime of experience and wisdom to share. 

I think that we need to be aware of what we make fun of. 

There is more awareness of the importance of not doing this to various groups these days, which is great. But elders still seem to be considered fair game. 

There is a saying that we teach people how to treat us. 

So let’s have the conversation more often about what these jokes and ridiculing may result in. It may be at the expense of a group of us that are already feeling pushed aside, invisible, no longer valued as productive members of society. 

Sometimes there can be much hostility and passive aggressiveness in a joke, in teasing. There can be a fine line when that turns into ridiculing and devaluing, making someone less than. 

And, sadly, these images can be internalized so that we begin to see ourselves this way. 

Can’t I take a joke? Not so much anymore. I have taken far too many jokes in my life about various groups that I have belonged to. And I am tired of it. I have had enough.

We deserve better. And we deserve to think of ourselves in better ways as well. We are not caricatures. We are elders with much to offer. And we deserve to be seen, heard, and valued. 

Sunday Morning Solitude, Silence, and Deep Quiet

Reflecions on life going by, memories cherished, tasting the moment

Photo by Bogdan G on Unsplash

It’s Sunday morning and I sit in quiet solitude. Full of so many feelings. Yet empty in a way that feels deeper than the fullness, deeper than words. 

Remember when we used to claim our half birthdays? I remember proclaiming I am 10 and a half! Almost 11. Or I am almost 16. Or close to 18. Funny, isn’t it? We rush ages early on, only to realize later that age rushes us all too quickly.

So I turned 69 and a half the other day. A group of roommates and I used to celebrate our half birthdays during our college years. Another reason to celebrate, we thought. Feels a bit different these days. 

Now I am closer to age 70 than to 69. How quickly the years seem to go by, more and more so as I am blessed enough to be able to continue aging. 

So here I am, this Sunday morning. 

I am so very grateful for life, and to be able to see another day. This is not about lack of gratitude. 

 I am quieted and sobered by the brevity of it all. 

Memories of my past flood me more these days, seeming to come out of nowhere. Reminding me of parts of the life that I have behind me. The child, the adolescent, the young adult, the middle age woman. All parts that are still within me, although not visible to others. Yet very visible and visceral to me. 

Here I am, approaching the seventies. I can’t quite wrap my brain around this at times. Seventy used to seem so OLD. Not so much anymore. 

There is part of me that does think of this as a new phase of life. A phase that I seem to have reached so much more quickly than I thought that I would. 

There are things to explore here, more lessons to learn, more to embody, more to live. 

I am leaving the golden autumn of my years and entering the more cool and blue winter. There is beauty to behold in the blue ice and cooler colors, in leaving some of the vibrant autumn hues behind me to enter this new land. And realizing that those vivid autumn hues are also within me still, as I travel to this next destination. 

I feel wonder, some fear, some shock, and oh so many more things that I cannot quite assign words to yet. I will keep working on this. For myself, to name this experience and rich time of life. For any others who may be able to relate. There is much power in naming things, in owning them, in fully living them. 

I am struck by how often elders are seen as having the story of being old to share. Yes, this is there. And there are also stories within us from every other time of our lives. A novel. Elderhood is a chapter, perhaps several with its many stages. 

We all carry so many stories, to those who may want to hear, who may be willing to stop and take a few moments to listen. 

We have much to share. Much to tell. 

And we are learning still. 

The book is not quite done yet.

Unread Books. Another Lesson in Letting Go

Cleaning out my bookcases and realizing that there is not time enough to read them all

Photo by Ed Robertson on Unsplash

I have been procrastinating on the whole decluttering project that looms before me, now that I am retired. I look around at things that I don’t need, have not used, can pass along to someone else who can use them. I do this gladly, for the most part.

Except for my books. I look at all the bookcases filled with all wonderful books. Books that I have accumulated over the many years. Books that I have read (and forgotten, but that will be for another article). Books that I intended to read. Books that bring back memories and scenes from my life. Books that have been companions to me through the years. 

There is a young man on Nextdoor who posted that he is willing to accept any and all books and will go through and repurpose them to where they can be used. It is a project from his heart. And I responded, feeling like this was the Universe helping to push me along a bit in the letting go process. 

I have 20 bags of books now sitting in my garage, waiting for his response as to when he can pick them up. 20 bags! And I still have books left on my bookcase. 20 bags is a pretty good start, I tell myself.

I realize, at this time of my life, that time feels much more limited. Much more of it behind me than ahead of me. Not time enough to read all these books, realistically. There are stories that I will not read. And I need to let go of those and pass them along to others who may read them and love them. 

Yes, I have a Kindle and also use that. But, and I think this may be also part of my age group, there is a special feeling that comes from holding a book in your hands, to turning each page anticipating what will come next. To feel the physicality of the book, the pages between my fingers. Not quite the same as a Kindle.

Which books to let go of. Which to try and read, to keep and plan to try and get to. And, realizing that I am a bit of a book addict, also acknowledging that I will still buy more books. So many books, so little time. So many stories. So many ideas. So many adventures into someone else’s world. 

I must choose. I must let go of some. And continue to make time to read those lovely books that I still have. 

I also realize how easy it is to become engrossed in technology, scroll through my phone, emails, texts. Less time reading. I need to work on that. Reading is such a quieting, meditative, soothing activity for me. 

As an only child, books became my friends, my way to voyage out into the world that my loving, albeit overprotective parents, limited me from. Books opened up the world for me. Told me stories. Made me think, feel, and become part of another story, forgetting my own for a bit. 

And so I become more intentional with my books. More intentional with my time, however long I may be graced enough to have left. More intentional with what I keep for a while and what it is time to let go of. More intentional with each moment of my life. 

I have stories to read. I have stories to write. I have a story to keep living, while I am still here. 

The Silken Web of Life

Hanging by a thread — my spider friend and I

Photo by michael podger on Unsplash

(This photo isn’t of my new friend, Penelope, but it looks just like her.)

I have a new friend, a spider, that I have named Penelope. I’m not even sure whether it’s a she or not, but she is Penelope to me.

I first noticed her a while back, and admired her intricate work with her beautiful web. She decided to build her web right outside my sliding glass door, and I now have a front row seat to her life. She mostly comes out in the evening, except for a few brief visits to her web during the day.

I have mindlessly destroyed spiders in my past. Without a thought.

These days, since retiring, I have more time to actually observe all the wondrous life forms around me. Birds taking a bath in the back yard where I leave water not only in the small birdbath but also in the bottom of potted plants. Different birds seem to have different preferences for where they take their baths. I am happy to provide a choice.

And now there is a spider here with me hanging out and living her life. She is quite the hunter, waiting patiently for any bug that may be flying by that gets caught in her web. A web that is silky and seems so fragile, yet can easily withstand strong winds. 

I talk to Penelope during the day. Needless to say, the gardener that comes by thinks that I may have lost it when I told him to be careful to not touch Penelope and her web. 

I find such fascination watching her and allowing her to simply be where she has decided to build her home. And I learn about patience, vigilance, persistence. 

I volunteer at the local zoo observing the elephants. They have taught me much. And I now find that I have come to observe so many other creatures, something that I did not have time to do when working full time. Bugs were nuisances and pests back then. Now I see them as fellow beings simply trying to live their lives.

I watch Penelope in her daily life. I think about how each of us is trying to live our own life, have made our own home (web), are doing our best. Mostly.

I learn from all these creatures. I learn that it is enough to simply be who we are. Live the life that we can. Do our best. 

I learn patience (or at least I try to learn that). 

I learn that we will do what we need to survive. I feel for the bugs that get caught. But Penelope must live. She must eat. Circle of life. Fierceness of nature. Predators and prey. 

I learned about that fierceness as well from observing the webcam that our local university has of the peregrine falcoms that nest there on the university campanile. They mostly eat other birds. They must live, and must feed their young.

 I have learned that there is grief and loss everywhere in nature. One of the young falcons that I observed was attacked and killed by another falcon. I grieved, having watched this young bird grow up from soon after she hatched to her first day of flight. 

I have learned that there is beauty in each moment, that sometimes we get caught by surprise by these random moments of beauty and grace, if only we pay attention. 

I have learned humility, watching the strength and bonds that other creatures form. We are all connected. We are all fellow beings on this earth. We all have our own life spans. And we are all important in the bigger scheme of things. The ecosystem. 

I have also come to appreciate the honeybees and make sure to help them out if they get into trouble when trying to drink water from the various birdbaths. I provide twigs for them to climb on so that they can get back to safety. I have been quite afraid of bees in my past, but find myself among them when trying to help one and finding that I feel calm when they buzz around me. I know that they are trying to protect their water source and fending off any possible intruders. 

I watch the ballet of the birds taking their baths. Splashing, moving around to get a full bath, then the fluff dry cycle that comes after. 

Penelope is often hanging by a thread. I feel that way as well at times. 

It’s ok. We all are. The golden silky thread of life, more resilient at times than we think. But also knowing that there is a time for the end of the web, the end of a life, the end of that cycle. Until the next one forms. 

I watch my neighbor’s baby grow. I see my other neighbors ready to welcome their second child any day now. The next cycle in the making, as mine comes to an end, whenever that may be. 

I am going to be 70 next year, so the time and passage of life become more real with each precious moment. And I appreciate them all. Each fragile, yet powerful, strand that makes up my particular web. Each breath of wind that comes by. Each life that shares the earth with me. Human and non human. I am filled with gratitude and awe. 

I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes of Ram Dass. We are all just walking each other home. 

Living Alone. Facing Myself.

Photo by Diego San on Unsplash

I have lived alone for years now. I was married once, decades ago, for 12 years. And I lived with another man for several years. We split up over 5 years ago. I have been on my own for most of my life.

This is where I find comfort, in sacred solitude. Especially in my own home and private sanctuary. 

Being an only child, I learned how to best comfort myself while alone. Being the focus of my parents with no siblings to distract them, I learned that the only time that I felt free to truly be myself was when I was completely alone. No one else to please. No one else to worry about in my own private space. No one there to immediately judge me or criticize me or find fault with anything that I was doing. No one else to tune into to make sure that I was safe. 

And now I enter “elderhood”. I will be 70 in the coming year. And living alone has some new added dimensions. 

What if something happens to me and there is no one around to ask for help? Something to think about in terms of where I live as I continue this aging journey.

Living alone can be bittersweet. It can bring both comfort and also at times a sense of loneliness. That’s different from the feeling of being alone that I am so familiar and comfortable with. Loneliness craves. Aloneness simply is. 

There are things that I sometimes miss with living alone. Someone to share a cup of coffee or tea with and chat with when I wake up and cannot sleep. Someone to ask how my day was. Someone to curl up next to sometimes when I need to feel human touch. Someone to help me feel a bit less alone in the world.

And yet, I find more (at least at this stage of my life) benefits to living alone than costs. 

I get to eat when and what I want. Yes, sometimes I do get tired of eating alone and spend less time preparing meals than if someone else were here with me. I am working on that. 

I get to sleep when I want.

 I get to keep my house as I see fit.

 I get to structure my moments, hours and days as I wish. 

For me, living alone also gives me the time and space to really hear myself.

 I have been a caregiver in my career as a social worker. I have learned to tune into others, perceive what they are feeling or may need. I am grateful to be able to do this. 

I also need a time and place when I can turn this off. When I can then tune into my own self and what I may be feeling or may need without the distraction of tuning into others around me and what may be going on with them. 

I write when I am alone. I can hear myself and express that to others who may be interested in some of the things that I have to say. I validate my own feelings and self by writing. 

I paint alone. I have no interest in the popular “paint nights” where people get together to paint and be part of a group. Painting is another exploration into my soul, as is my writing. I guard my time to do that alone. I get distracted by others and my own intrusive thoughts about what their thoughts and judgments of my paintings may be. 

I do my most intense thinking when alone. I allow my feelings to come up as they wish when I am alone, to tell me what they need me to hear and pay attention to. 

I am most myself when alone, and at this time in my life, I am wanting to really know myself, to get to know that deepest part of me that I have not paid enough attention to. The part of me that I learned to judge as not good enough. The part of me that I set aside with the busyness of life and all of its demands. The part of me that it’s now time to fully come home to. 

What I have also learned, especially since retirement, is that I must be intentional in creating my tribe and community. I live alone, and I also need others. So I must create that for myself. I create my own family, having none of my own at this time. The family at the neighborhood gym. The family of the art association that I have joined. The family of writers that is here in this community of writers, all of you. The family of friends and neighbors who acknowledge my existence and worth to them. All of these different families are precious to me. 

I live alone, by choice. And I am connected to others, as needed. For me, this works right now. Will it change in the future? Possibly. Aging brings changes and different needs. For now, I am grateful for the sacredness of solitude in my own quiet home. Where I can finally hear mySelf. 

Aging Together With My House

My house , its various parts and appliances, and I are slowly declining together

Photo by Jana Shnipelson on Unsplash

 The washer repair guy came over yesterday to look at my old washer. His diagnosis made me stop and once again meditate on aging. This happens a lot these days. 

This washer has been here since I moved in, over twenty years ago. So, it has definitely had a life of service, which I very much appreciate. 

The repair guy cleaned out some of its pipes and then told me that the next time that something goes wrong, it would be time to call it a day for this washer and dryer set and purchase a new one. 

I immediately had feelings about this. Ok, so I have feelings about pretty much everything, especially as I continue on this aging journey. 

What was I feeling, I wondered?

I realize that I identify with aging things more and more these days. And now I even empathize with the washer in its aging process. I will need to replace it at some point. Maybe in a week, a month, a year. Who knows? And I feel sad. Sobered. And amused at my own feelings in some ways. A sense of humor is vital these days. 

Because I realize that I too am declining. At some point my time will be over. And that is hard to wrap my brain around for very long. 

It is important, I think, to carry that awareness of mortality inside of us. 

I think it helps me appreciate each moment more, to be present more with each breath of life still left. To be grateful to still be functioning and alive. 

So, today I did two loads of laundry. And the washer worked beautifully. Good for you, old girl, I said. You still have it in you. Was I talking to the washer or myself? Maybe both.

The dryer, however, seemed to be leaving things a bit damp…oh boy, here we go again. Truly it is a matter of time. As it is with me.

I can laugh at myself as I identify with my house (which is two years younger than my 69 years). And I can laugh at myself when I talk with the various appliances and things in need of repair. I understand, I say. I truly do. 

I may need to get servicing more myself as I go along, perhaps getting my pipes cleaned out and various things tuned up that can be tuned up. I need to keep using this body to keep it running. I need to get it checked a bit more frequently by the body mechanics and repair folks, also known as my doctors.

And at some point it will be the point of no return. For my washer and dryer. For me. 

So, until then, let me keep living and breathing and appreciate each moment of this amazing roller coaster ride of life. I am so very grateful for it all. And even more so when I realize the reality of mortality, the brevity of life. The preciousness of each moment. Each smile. Each laugh. Each tear. Each and every feeling that makes us human. 

Morning/Mourning Tears

Grief and mourning come in waves

Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash

I woke up with tears this morning. They come when they like. I have learned to simply be with them. And learn from them. And talk with them.

I just got back from a lovely week in Oregon. I traveled with a friend whose daughter lives up there. This sweet friend usually has full time grandmother duties when she visits Oregon. She loves her two grandsons, but also never really has had the time to see this beautiful state. This time she played tourist with me.

Lush green breathtaking views greeted us everywhere. Oregon gets rain, so waterfalls are abundant. Living in California, rain has become more and more of a precious and rare gift. 

So the voices in my head tell me that I should feel nothing but happy after a lovely time away. They criticize and judge me for my sadness. I talk with those voices as well, continually.

We feel what we feel. 

Yes, I had a lovely time. 

And I am sad this morning. 

Both are true. Both these feelings and experiences can and do co-exist. 

I am sad and mourning my youth. Traveling and noticing that I feel so much more invisible than I used to. Two older women on an adventure, but older women. Looked at differently, if looked at all. There can be advantages to this, and there is also a sense of loss. 

Traveling and feeling the sand in the hourglass moving ever more quickly. How many more trips might I have left in me? How many more adventures? Getting ready for a trip seems to take more energy these days. Negotiating a new place seems to bring a bit more anxiety. The self confidence of my youth seems to have decreased. 

I think about where I want to spend whatever time that I have left. Oregon has called to me for quite some time. Yet I wonder if I have the energy to move, with all that this involves, at my age and stage of life. To start over again somewhere new. 

This is such a bittersweet time of life. 

I appreciate the bitter as well as the sweet. It is all important. It is all part of the experience of life. It all adds richness and depth. 

I am grateful for it all. Even the tears. I couldn’t have tears if I wasn’t still so very much alive and still didn’t have the capacity to feel. What a gift that is, to feel. All of it, all part of this human journey that we are on. 

The Elephant In My Heart

Lessons on being in the moment from my elephant friend

Photo by Geran de Klerk on Unsplash

We talk about the elephant in the room. Things that are there that no one is talking about. 

That may be for another post. 

This post is about the elephant in my heart.

I observe the elephants at our local zoo as part of the Behavior Observation Team. I have been doing this for at least 9 years. I spend two hour shifts simply watching them, recording their behaviors, being with them.

I have had much on my mind and in my heart lately, as have we all. Today is the anniversary of 9–11. A day that we can never forget. And Queen Elizabeth died this week. The end of an era, the end of this constant presence for my entire life. A presence of quiet calm and grace. Another piece of the world that I grew up in gone. Gone. 

The news full of stories of war, crime, shootings, sadness, climate change, and more things than my heart feels like it can possibly hold at once. I find that I need to stop listening to it all after a period of time. It’s too much. Too much. 

I remember all my own losses as the anniversaries of them come up. Family, friends, pets, my own youth. Also more pain at times than I feel that my heart can possibly hold. Each new loss brings up memories of all the others.

Yesterday, my usual day at the zoo, I got to watch our male elephant. A young male who I absolutely love. I watch him as he goes about his life. And for those several hours, I am simply being with him. Right then and there. In that precious moment of time that we share together.

It’s been really hot lately. The elephants have a pool, and this young male decided to make full use of that yesterday. He walked in and began to splash and play and frolic. I got to observe pure joy in the moment. The guests that were lucky enough to be there in that moment were as mesmerized and delighted as I. To watch him simply take pure delight in the water, playing, submerging himself, splashing, carrying a small tire (a toy of sorts ) and playing with that in the water. Smiles and awe and delight were all around as we watched and played along with him in our hearts. 

The zookeepers came out and had some treats. It’s not hard to see who has trained whom, as he knows how to request those treats in the most endearing way. If you’ve ever had a pet look at you with that look of “please?” and found that you could not resist, you can imagine what having a 13,500 pound elephant looking at you with that same look can do to your heart. There were treats galore. 

Then back into the pool he went for more splashing and play. Play and delight simply for its own purpose. Pure simple beautiful joy in living life at that moment.

This is one of my lessons from him. To be here, now, in the pool of life. Splashing and submerging and playing when I can. Remembering the joy of pure pleasure. Letting my heart hold that for a moment and set aside the pain and sadness and grief that is also part of life. Grief that is also necessary, I believe, to fully appreciate the moments of joy.

And I realize, that though my heart feels so very heavy at times with things that feel hard to contain and hold there, I now have an elephant in there. And, I have found, that if my heart is big enough to hold an elephant inside of it, it can hold it all. This heart can hold it all. This heart can feel it all. 

The Mosaic of Self

Remembering, Seeing, and Appreciating all the Pieces of Ourselves

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

When I look into the mirror these days, I see an older face. Lined, sagging, dimpled (and not in a cute way). And I see how it may be easy to put myself into a category. Older woman, Aging woman And how easy it may be to forget all the other pieces and parts of me that are still there inside me.

If I can fall into this, how much more easily can others fall into this trap? I too, when younger especially, have not always seen all that is contained in another’s face, another’s body. Especially when they were older. I would see an older man or woman and fit them into that category in my mind. And not wonder about the pieces of them that might not be so visible initially. Who they might have been earlier. What and who that they might have loved. What their life and passions have been. Who they are in totality.

And here I am now, also perhaps easily categorized by others. 

I have the little girl that I was inside me still. She who loved to draw, to go on the carousel, who learned to find solace in her room alone as an only child. She who was the young daughter of immigrants who would sometimes serve as a translator. She who felt like she had to prove her worth along with all the generations before her.

I have the adolescent inside me still. She who didn’t know where to put all the conflicting feelings and emotions bubbling up inside of her at times. She who was unable to truly participate in much of after school social life, as her parents were very old world, strict, protective. She who was shy and felt unattractive and not good enough. She who felt like she never really belonged.

I have the young woman inside me. She who fought to go to college, to get some freedom. She who said “no” to her father announcing that they would be moving to Sicily and that she could go to school there, and that he had, in fact, begun inquiries into that without even talking with her. She who learned to survive and managed to take care of herself when her parents no longer supported her financially.

I have the young woman inside me who walked down the aisle to get married, having reconciled enough with her parents at that point, so they both walked her down together. She who had dreams of eternal love. She who looked forward to a future of having someone by her side. 

I have the somewhat older, but still young, woman inside me going through a divorce and the pain of that. Not really understanding what happened. Not really understanding relationships and how to make them work. Still trying to define herself without having to use someone else to do that. 

I have the social worker retired now, who worked from her heart as much as possible, until that was no longer really valued in the medical field where her job for the last 15 years of her career was, where it became all about numbers and productivity. 

I have the artist inside me, finally able to come out and paint now that I have time to devote to that which has been dormant and set aside all these years.

I have the writer inside me that longs to express herself, also having been quieted all these years while trying to make a living and support myself. 

I have the sensual part of me still here, although perhaps not recognized or validated, but still very much here.

I have the retired person, retired from work, but not from my life.

I see others around me who are also on the aging path and can better hear their stories now that I am among them. The cafe owner who used to be in the Navy for years and proudly displays photos of herself during that time in her life. The gentleman who sits outside the cafe daily socializing. His strong body still shows the hard work that he has done in his life. His features still show the beauty of his face, now and as it was then. 

I have, in my career, (the most recent job as a social worker in a nursing facility) also been graced enough to learn to see the totality of patients who were now paralyzed, perhaps disfigured from life tragedies. To hear their stories of who they have been. To see photos of what they may have looked like before. To hear the parts of them that were still there inside of them that others no longer could see. 

I even observe how we don’t see the totality of other beings, of creatures that we share this planet with. As a volunteer at our local zoo, I see how most guests spend perhaps two minutes at each exhibit, hurriedly trying to see all the animals in whatever time that they are there. I can understand wanting to see it all, and yet am so aware of how much can be missed in being with these fellow creatures for only a few minutes. I spend several hours each week observing the elephants, and that has become a sacred time for me. I have learned, and am still learning, to quiet myself and simply be with them , there in that momen in time. To share that moment together with these majestic creatures. 

We each carry so many pieces of ourselves. Our history. All that we have been, have learned. All that we still desire and feel. We are more than the individual pieces that may be evident at first glance. We contain a world and lifetime of experience. We can learn to see each other, to hear each other’s stories.

And, more importantly, I remind myself to look in the mirror and see more than the current reflection that is there. I am so much more than that. I want to remember the whole mosaic of who I am. Appreciate all that I have been, am now, and may be in the future, however long that I am graced enough to live.