There’s something so strange about growing older.
I often think about the way statements like “you’re not getting older, you’re getting better” or it’s antithesis “getting old isn’t for sissies” roll off people’s tongues. The first one comes from younger-than-you-people, the second from older-than-you’s. There’s some truth in both but the problem is the only way to find out is by growing older. And that sucks.
Look, I know, it is “better than the alternative”, although if the alternative was to grow younger I would happily choose door number two. I get it though. I have a dead husband, you all have dead people in your lives that you wish had the option of growing older. I feel you. But that doesn’t mean I can’t complain about getting older myself, or at least write about it in a way to make some sense of all my feels about it.
And, you know, it’s my blog so…
The main thing, the thing of utmost importance for me to say, is that I feel, at least in my head, 35-ish. Maybe 40. I probably behave more like a 25 year old. These are distressing thoughts to someone coming to grips with a real number.
I remember as a kid , looking at old people (who were probably 35-ish) and not connecting in any way with their experience. I am certainly more than grateful that as I got into my 20’s I began to connect with my elders, women in particular, and the process became less mysterious. Maybe thats why I still feel young; I know women older than me who do too. Plus I have a number of younger friends that I love and relate to, something that is imperative in this process, in my estimation. But life doesn’t see me as young. I am “ma’am” I am the one who can’t do this or that.
Example…I am mad about music. I listen to the latest and love it. I love going to live shows. But my days of standing in a crowd for a couple of hours to see a band I love are flat out over. And I worry about things like stairs at a venue. They are no longer for running up and down; now I am grateful beyond measure for handrails.
Example...I love yoga. I took teacher training and practice regularly, and although I expect I could cue a full on hatha class, I don’t want to. I teach yin and restorative. I appreciate, practically, less cues to remember. I appreciate the calm, meditative quality of these practices, the nervous system reset, the fascial release, the pause. However, I live in L.A and if you spit you hit a yoga studio, or teacher. Young teacher. How do fit into that culture? It’s a question that might be answered by the “you’re not getting older, you’re getting better” quote. I have more patience. I’m calmer and more compassionate. I see yoga as service and lifestyle rather than a money making proposition (although there’ s not much money in teaching yoga). I’d love to have a class; and grateful to have a client.
Example...I love to wander through bookstores, as I did this past Sunday post Farmer’s Market. When asked if I needed help I answered no, content to just hang out. The salesperson was persistent, wanting to show me a book that “a lot of people” had been buying. I humored her and was taken to a book chronicalling the stages of a woman’s life. That’s right: the Maiden, the Mother and……the Crone. This particular book was about the Crone. As you can imagine, my day was made.
Back in January I got pneumonia and it changed me in some fundamental, and I think, awful way. Until then I really felt 35-ish, even in my body. I felt strong and healthy. But I had never been really sick before, and man, was I sick! Down all of January and it took me a few months to get back to acceptable physical speed…and I stress acceptable. Because it’s not where I was, but I guess it’s acceptable for someone my age. My body has changed, suddenly, dramatically. I have more chronic pain. I don’t exactly know what to do with these changes.
On top of the physical illness, and while my friends were incredibly helpful and solicitous, there was no getting around the fact that I was alone. I’ve been alone for a while, but not like this. It messed with my mind, as it brought to the forefront exactly what the rest of my life looks like. And what if I do get a debilitating disease? What if I need constant help? It’s frightening. I don’t fear death, I fear getting sick in a way that would compromise my ability to care for myself. And that seems a logical thing to fear….it will, almost inevitably, happen.
In some ways the “getting better “ is clear. It’s in my the ability to be alone, to accept myself (even though it’s hard work), to be honest…etc. But it doesn’t feel better. Aging to me just feels like loss after loss after loss, and so many more to come. People, abilities, my memory (that’s already in full swing!) I just got word of an old friend in hospital. Heart attack, outcome very uncertain. Aging feels like steeling myself against the onslaught of destruction to myself and to those I love.
It also feels like meditating into those feelings, allowing them and hoping for some relief, a little acceptance (Not here yet, obviously) . It feels like saying yes more, the no’s have to stop. It feels like curiosity writ large…..what’s next? isn’t this interesting? how do I do that?
Yesterday I had my thermostat replaced, and when asked which of two new ones I’d like, I chose the easy one. On /off, shows temperature, fine by me. I tend to choose the easy things now, the familiar. There is so much info in my brain that I just feel I don’t have the cells to pick up something new. I swear the the next gazillionaire is the person who develops a way to extract all the old song lyrics from my brain, making room for newer info. But then it’s so fun to sing along with all the oldies!
I don’t know. This is where I am on my birthday this year. Caught between a youthful head and an aging body. The enjoyment and meaning of life and the slow dissolving into death. The joy of friends and family and connection and a bone-chilling loneliness that I fear can never be filled. I’m not gonna lie or try and make this look pretty. I don’t feel that way. I am angry and afraid and kicking and screaming.
BUT I am also grateful. I’ve had a great life and I am sure there are many joys to come, even amidst the indignities. I’m usually happy, or happy-ish. I have remarkable friends and a lot of things I love to do, and am fully able to do. I’m glad to be alive, glad to be here to experience every moment of it, good and bad. As uncomfortable as this aging thing is, I am so grateful to just be here, now.
The balance between all that is the high wire I’m walking these days. It keeps me busy. It keeps me from writing here. It keeps my lying on the couch playing Candy Crush. It keeps me reading poetry and beautiful books. It keeps me doing yoga and meditating. It keeps me lonely and it keeps me reaching for connection. It keeps me saying yes when all I want to do is say no. It keeps my hopes high but my expectations low.
Getting older ISN’T for sissies. At least I know, as in all things, I am never truly alone. There are plenty of other non-sissies walking this same tightrope. And knowing that brings me some relief.
So I will leave you with my birthday truth and a piece of music that fills me with sorrow and joy. I always expected to wake up on my birthday with this song blasting. It was a shared joke, a way of speaking love. That’s not gonna happen either. But I am moving forward, staying curious about the process and playing this song (which I know all the words to, of course!) full blast, for myself.