On Sunday after church, a friend mentioned this blog and since he’s the kind of person one admits stuff to, I told him that lately I’ve been hesitant to get too vulnerable here. I wondered if it was something about the medium itself and being known by many of my readers versus a journal essay where I’m essentially anonymous. My friend (who blogs here) listened, then quoted Abraham Maslow:
In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.
Alright… since I’ve committed to speak of my aging, I’ll step forward with this. Currently I feel as if I’m wrestling with this business of older. It pushes into every role and unsettles it, most particularly the writer role, but really every aspect of life. It’s like all the good and bad of this stage — freedom, envy, discontentment, limitation, gratitude, belovedness, uncertainty — jostles in me simultaneously.
A few pictures: In an exercise inspired by Ignatian spirituality I found myself identifying as a woman in a crowd near Jesus, placing myself in the front to see, because I was too old to be noticed anyway! I was startled at what I’d thought. One night I dreamt I’d signed up for academic courses but panicked because I hadn’t attended classes and would have FAILURE on my record. In another dream I slipped into a deep icy hole by the path and clung to the icy ledge, which began to crack, though I managed to grab a fence and get out before it broke. In yet another dream I was ordained, of all things, without prior examination and by a circle of women!
All muddled and weird in the moment, but here’s to stepping forward… hopefully into growth.
Back in 2007, following a small tea to celebrate my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary, my daughter overheard the following conversation between my mother and one of her sisters at the door. I jotted it into my journal:
Mom: Well, I hope we can do this again.
Her sister: I don’t think so.
Mom: Why not?
Her sister: They say I’m on my way out.
Mom: Aren’t we all?
My mom and her sisters were close but also blunt with each other (as I noted here) so this just-slightly-testy exchange amused my daughter and me. But quite apart from the personalities involved and the additional factor of cognitive loss starting in for both of them at that time, the exchange is a good reminder for me at face value. My mother is still alive, eleven years later, but three of the sisters at the tea, including the one in the conversation, are not. In the past two weeks two of my husband’s cousins died, both of them good people with long good lives (88, and over 90), and also — more startling to me — a friend from my youth group days, just a year older than I am. And as I page about in the same 2007 journal I see “cute” comments from our six-year-old grandson who is now seventeen and just got his drivers’ license! Time flies, as goes the cliche, and death is true and we’re all living our lives in the terminals of these realities.
“It is a place of fierce energy,” Florida Scott-Maxwell wrote about being old (in her 1968 book The Measure of My Days). It was a place she had no idea existed until she arrived. Perhaps “passion would be a better word than energy,” she continued, for she was in her 80s and putting her “vivid life” into action meant she was soon “spent.”
I was reminded of these words on the passion of the aging place when I found myself in a conversation about immigrants and asylum seekers in Canada. There I was, arguing passionately — full throttle really — against the politics of resentment and fear I saw in the battle of the U.S. midterm elections but see in this country as well and heard reflected in the conversation.
Obviously a kind of ferocity still inhabits this place of my aging. Should I regret this? Had I imagined that serenity or tranquility or whatever quiet moderation “wisdom” implies would have no room for passion of this sort? I think I can say that a kind of serenity is slowly being won in the place of my aging, but certain lines of opinion remain passionate. I want these to be the lines for love, justice, big tent theology, big tent politics. I had actually come to believe, over my particular lifetime, that the world was heading (struggle notwithstanding) in a more generous direction. I’ve lost optimism on that. I’m not out of hope, but hope itself seems, today at least, necessarily fierce and bristly.