I am taking this idea to heart these days, that “capacity for astonishment”. He is right in saying that not one of us is able to understand our lives until it is over. I have always thought of that idea as the old trope of seeing “our lives flash before our eyes”. Maybe that is exactly what happens; a flash and a sudden knowing what it all meant. Of course that is conjecture too, there is no one who has come back and told about it. But I like the idea.
But I also like the idea of maintaining the sense of what is possible in life until well into our later years. What’s the alternative..lose all interest and die? I remember one day sitting and talking with my mother, years ago. And she said words that chilled me then, but I have been guilty of using them myself. She would say ” I might as well give up”; and she said it with clarity each time, like it was a choice, her choice. And I didn’t see it like that, I felt that she might be forced to give up by illness or whatever, but that she couldn’t and shouldn’t choose it. And one day I was proven wrong. Almost literally overnight she gave up on life with a stark surety that was breathtaking. She just gave up, stopped caring. And we watched it, saw her slowly and silently shutting the world out. Now, I know that is not a choice for everyone, but I am clear that it was with her, and also clear that I could make that same choice at any point.
And I admit that in the last few years there were times that I felt warranted that letting go and going under. Hell, I did it when I started backing out of life with my drinking, as it got easier and easier to stay at home, alone. But I’m lucky. I have friends and people that care about me, and who I cared enough about to at least feign interest in life, and then, suddenly I was interested again. I stopped drinking. I started volunteering. My relationship with my son shifted and I began to make new friends and explore different areas of life, all the while holding on to and cherishing those long-term relationships.
There are days even still when I sink into the abyss of self…I’m human. But I have also rediscovered my capacity for curiosity (my word of the year) and astonishment, like Glaser says.
Mary Oliver says it too, and so beautifully:
“Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.”
Milton Glaser is 85 years old, and still designing
Mary Oliver is 79 years old, and writing some of her, arguably, best poetry.
I’m not that old, but I’m on my way, and there is nothing more I want now than to continue to grow and risk and try new things and behave as if I don’t care what others are thinking…all of which I am working hard on
Tomorrow I have my first date in months, actually close to a year. I updated my online profile and, not counting all the ridiculous, shirtless 25 year olds, there seem to be a few interesting men out there. God !! it’s hard for me to write that with any enthusiasm, but I have been seriously giving the idea of “being through”; being alone for the rest of my life, a resting place in my mind and it nags at me…it doesn’t feel completely wrong OR right and so I think it warrants a mustering of some more curiosity, at least for a little while longer.
And then this was handed to me today after yoga : I’m not sure what I’m going to DO with that yet, but it would be a shame to let it go to waste, to ignore the possibilities and to relegate that accomplishment to the scrapheap of things I have done before. If nothing else it should serve as a constant reminder of the life I have left in me , my abilities, and the opportunities I have to grow and learn and astonish myself, even still.
And here I am telling about it. I haven’t been writing a lot; not sure why, but when I do I find relief and happiness and I need to remember that too.
And when it’s over? Well, I hope I understand it, I hope that clarity is out there, somewhere. But it’s not over yet, not today. Hopefully not tomorrow.. The grief, the fear that are my constant companions, ebb and flow and I will always have to surf that. But I want to live at this intersection of joy and possibility that I am discovering for as long as I am able.
I’m not giving up any time soon, and I find even that, astonishing.