How’s your aging going this week?
Mine slips along, almost unnoticed at the moment, and I’m rather glad about that. An ordinary day, this day, bit of a breeze. Company for supper last night. When it got dark, we searched the sky for Mars, close and visible now, and earlier I’d scolded myself out the door for a walk to the Bay, because I need to keep walking and it’s always better when I do. Today I’m going into Vancouver with Daughter, chasing a shopping list and hoping to slide in a professional foot massage. (My feet ache with excitement at the very thought.) My Saskatchewan sisters visited last week. It was such a treat to be together. One of them a recent widow though and I wished I could lift her sadness. Impossible, of course, for he’s gone and all I can do is carry a tiny corner of that. And Monday — was it Monday? — we tuned into the now infamous Helsinki press conference and we didn’t quit watching until it was over. Which more than used up a day’s supply of indignation. Husband’s radiation treatments are done, hallelujah, and best of all they’ve helped: pain alleviated, some return of equilibrium. Further results to be known in September. Time in better proportion now. The first months after diagnosis pressed us into the present; we couldn’t make plans beyond the moment. Living in the moment is touted as good, as in mindfulness, but realistically some measure of future beyond “we’ll see” makes for a happier time. And I’m writing these days. A life writing project. For myself, I say, when talking back to the familiar Inner Resistance (“who’ll care about that?”). Besides, I say, writing is the way I think. And remember.
The U.S. Supreme Court is in the news these days, what with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to replace Justice Kennedy, but I’ve been thinking about another justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I saw — and highly recommend — the inspiring documentary RBG. Now 85, Ginsburg has been an advocate of women’s rights. When she attended Harvard Law School, she was one of only nine women in a class of hundreds, and even those nine seats, the dean opined, should have gone to men. The movie highlights cases Ginsburg argued before the Supreme Court in the 1970s, before she was served there herself, in which she had to instruct the all-male Court of the time that discrimination against women did — yes — exist. “I saw myself as a kindergarten teacher in those days,” she says with droll wit.
She was fortunate to have a close, supportive marriage with the late Marty Ginsburg, who apparently wasn’t threatened by her brain. She works extremely hard, stays energized through exercise, loves the opera (“the sound of the human voice like an electric current going through me”). But what lingers for me is Ginsburg’s beautiful presence as an older. I saw no apology in her for aging.
...no apology in her for aging…
Also inspiring: two nurses, 65 and 71, active in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and a caravan of grandmothers heading to the Mexico border. Plus, Longreads has started a series on age and aging. The first essay, “Gone Gray” by Jessica Berger Gross agonizes over to dye or not to dye. Who cares? is my opinion on the matter, please do whatever works best for you. But if you care, Gross offers one of the most amusing and persuasive considerations yet: “Trump’s ridiculous orange dye job made me see the deceptive element in hair color.”
Downsizing. The catchword for aging, right? Our physical reality, our challenge, our freedom.
But Mary Catherine Bateson, in Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom, offers an intriguing image of upsizing for this stage. (Thanks to MaryAnn Halteman Conrad for alerting me to Bateson’s work.) Imagine, she says, that you have the resources to add a room, or enlarge one, in your house. What room will you choose? And how will it affect how you live in the house?
Adding a room, Bateson says, is what longevity is like.
In Canada, average life expectancy increased 24.6 years between 1921 (57.1) and 2011 (81.7). That’s a big room added to the human house in 90 years, which has significantly altered the shape and flow of how we live.
I snagged on the gift-of-an-extra-room idea as a fun way to think about my current priorities or desires. Which room? How will it look? How affect the rest? I see a friend with a photography room. Another has added a room to re-settle refugees. (I speak metaphorically.) I’ll gladly keep my kitchen small at this point but since I’m doing some memoir-type writing I visualize an archives/library room where I can watch memory filmstrips, spread papers and documents, organize, spot patterns and narrative. Archives need a cool, darkish environment, but my imaginary room will definitely have to have a garden door to the outside world and lives of younger people. I’ll need to keep present realities in my eye and not get clouded by ancient dust.
AND YOU? WHAT’S YOUR EXTRA OR DREAM ROOM LIKE?