I’m in the final swing of my 78th turn around the sun. I’ve often wondered what happened to those famous people who disappear from view, only to appear again in an obituary decades later. What were they doing all those years? How did they fare, once no longer buoyed by the light of admiration from others?
William Saroyan famously said, “Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case.”
I should probably write a book about this fascination with the years of erasure. I think I’m in the ante room of it. Or just inside the door, looking around.
Elderhood, it turns out, doesn’t just come to us. We earn older simply by surviving past 60. Elder, though, takes work.
We may first hear the bells toll for our youth through losses.
The kids leave the nest and tank all your expectations. She is now a they or a he. He is in prison. She lives on the other coast. They talk to you about long term care insurance.
Then there’s CRAFT. Can’t remember a fucking thing. Names float more slowly from the back brain to our lips. They become as slow as the answers floating up to the window in the old Magic 8-ball Fortune-telling toy. I’ve introduced two good friends with the vague, “Why don’t you tell one another your names.”
I carry horrible images of deep old age. Yes, I may be one of those “model elders” who dances into her 90s or wears vibrant caftans or rides a motorcycle in leathers or is “sharp as a tack” – but beneath those “best years of your life” images lurk terrible ones.
I’ve learned through training with Sage-ing International that I carry this dread of decline before demise, even as outwardly I’ve sailed through my 60s and 70s. While the pandemic didn’t seem to slow down my social creativity, I’m emerging into a different reality. Friends have been hit with illness. Our safe circles are smaller — many don’t show up at dances and events. The Gilded Age flow of capital to the 1% means our houses are now vacation rentals and second homes that have been snapped up with cash and young people can’t afford to live here. And I look in the mirror and see I am no longer dodging the bullet of sagging flesh.
Ageism is a thing. It’s in me as I dust blusher on my hollowing cheeks for a zoom interview. It’s in me as I let my fears speak, fears of being alone, in pain, unable to take care of myself. Fears of disappearing, inch by inch, from the churn of society creating itself fresh in each moment. Facing into this with curiosity and acceptance is big work.
As Bette Davis said, “Old age is no place for sissies.”
Saroyan and Davis can toss off memorable quips, but guaranteed, the rest of the time they were probably railing against the indignities of erasure while getting used to a walker or depending on Depends.
This is the Aikido of aging dojo I’ve entered. I’m choosing curiosity over dread, knowing that internalized agism is real and daunting if you let it take hold.
The yearlong program on Aging to Saging will explore the tasks of Eldering as outlined by Reb Zalman Schachter who I once had the privilege of studying with. I will surely write more, and speak more and teach more as the months and years into this adventure of eldering unfolds through me. Maybe I’ll write that book I mentioned earlier – kind portraits of the formerly famous as they work through the toughest role they’ve ever played: themselves aging into death.
Today, I share this week’s poem that evokes the feelings of newness in me as I shed my warrior’s cape and find that, at long last, I want to meet and mate with the ultimate love of my life.
The rain sounds the same,
Drops, like fingers tapping on the roof,
curl down drain spouts
Gully down the same driveway
With the unsteady mailbox at the end
And the grass slowly nibbling at the concrete margins
At my desk, I’ve watched the seasons change through an expansive window
This January the garlic poked through, remembering how to do it
Now the forsythia buds push out of dormant branches
Soon the peas will beg to be sunk just right by the trellis
The potatoes will drop in their trenches thanks to human hands
The asters, dahlias and hollyhock will head skyward
towards their glorious late-summer symphony of opulent beauty.
I know this life, these rhythms, but inside, another faint melody comes
A newness within, a spring in the autumn of my life
A girlish expectancy that my one true love is not in my past but my future
Another change of life
Didn’t I do that at puberty?
Apparently I’ve done it once a decade.
At twenty when I flung my prospects out the window and went on the road
At thirty when I dug and built and lived on the land
At forty, when my power surged forth to put weirs in the flow of this world.
At fifty, when my partner died and I was liberated to find the real dimensions of my vigor.
At sixty, when I nearly died and changed again, leaving everything behind but a strong will to be real.
And seventy, still marching to my distant drummer
And now, at 78, suddenly aware of the diminishing time ahead
Behind me, a sprawl of sullies out, like an errant knight,
to save the damsel dragonflies and more.
This moment of turning feels like puberty
Something strange, unfamiliar, is changing me
Body and mind
I’m not interested in knightly pursuits
The bugles dim
The expansive dreams fade
Yet from this body once again a new shoot comes
Perhaps the next shoots will be daisies
But this one is roses.
Sweet expectancy, heart shedding its skin
To beat again towards mystery
Who will join me on this last road
My expectant nubile aging body asks
How much love can burst this old heart
I have always, and still, admired you Vicki. Your book changed my life (for the better) and I am grateful to you. Wishing you more seasons and joys before this life is over .. and I’m right behine you 🙂
Vicki, you are a badass!! I have purchased and learned many lessons from both the book and audiobook of YMOYL. Your thoughts/words have changed my life for the better.
Aging is scary but happens to us all. I’m in my 50s but feel slightly slower and less healthy than my 30s and 40s. However, a few deep friendships keep my spirits high. Also a good movie such as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel remind me that older people still have meaningful lives and purpose. Cheers to you and the difference you make.
I don’t know how I got this message
But I’m considering the universe responding to my inquiry
Thank you for sharing your insights
with love and gratitude
Vicki, it was 1982 when I became self employed with 2 kids, a mortgage and living on borrowed money. Somehow YMOYL came into my life and I devoured it, lived it, kept track of every penny we spent, worked my ass off and finally turned the corner towards financial freedom. I want to thank you for that and speak about that which you seek.
Many years ago, after divorce and retirement from the business life I read a book that poised 10 life evaluating questions. I had no problem at all giving myself rather satisfying answers to them except for one. It was “what’s your hearts greatest desire”? Damn it, the more I thought about the question the more angry I got. How was it I couldn’t tell you what my hearts greatest desire was.
After much struggle and frustration the answer came to me, true love. Years later, after not believing I’d really found my true love, I realized I couldn’t be without her. So 10 years ago, at age 65 I married my true love. Go fearlessly Vicki.
Dear Vicki, This aging chapter is definitely challenging and intriguing and I appreciate your honesty and your sense of adventure. I love your poem and your heart opening like a flower to true love. Blessings.
Thank you for sharing your beautiful poem.
Wow, what a letter and a poem. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, they resonate with me. You are a couple of decades ahead of me, I’m 46, but it’s this year that I am catching my first glimpse of what lies ahead. I can’t look away— they are reflecting in the mirror and in my changing body. I am understanding how growing old is so not an easy path or for the weak minded. Perhaps especially for those who have enjoyed great ability, or youthful beauty, or both, or shoot, even neither of those! Not easy for anyone.
My husband is six years older than me, I have two older siblings both in their 50s, and my parents are about your age, and so it is now that the creaks in my own joints and the sag of my chin and neck are showing me that I’m not going to be spared what I am witnessing as their experiences. Sure, my specific ailments may be unique but that I too will experience that loss that gets spelled out over the decades, sometimes slowly, sometimes overnight. It has never been so apparent to me as it has in these past months. And yet my friends of the same age or younger think me dramatic or pessimistic for taking note of it. I feel like it’s not welcomed conversation or observations. I know I’ve got a lot of youth left but I thank you for sharing your experience. I helps me feel less alone as I reckon with my own internal ageism. And, as I learn to recognize a new self identity less tied to ability, or cultural ideas of beauty and relevance.
What is the yearlong program on Aging to Saging? Thanks for your insightful post.
As always, thank you Vicki
I’m also interested in which Aging to Saging program you’re referring to. Thanks!
What is the yearlong program on Aging to Saging? Thanks for your insightful post.
Beautiful reflection and poem, Vicki, thank you. True words well spoken. I find empathy for the aging process not only because I too am noticing the passage of time here on the cusp of 50, but because my health struggles brought me face to face with my mortality. I trust you to keep blazing a trail forward, and Sage on!
Sweet Vicki: “Maybe I’ll write that book I mentioned earlier – kind portraits of the formerly famous as they work through the toughest role they’ve ever played: themselves aging into death.”
Oh please do!!!
Wow, there are so many of us that would absolutely LOVE to read that book.
Talk about using your beautiful brain to produce two books (YMOYL + this one) that book-end two vital stages / mindsets / worldviews on life… Now that would certainly help increase the odds of what you so eloquently refer to as “civilizational survival”.
Sending you a big karmic hug.
Vicki…this is a tremendous and insightful deep dive into some glaring truths that will surely confront everyone of a certain age as we wrestle with the changes and the what feel like looming realities. I really appreciate these musings, and am also yearning for a walk with you soon. I’m out of town but will touch base when I get home. Blessings all around…..
Vicki, thank you for this letter and poem. Your spark surely lights up many of us, heart and mind. May you have a very good 79th year, may it be filled with what delights you and may you share it with your loves and those that love you and those that are delighted with your insight. May I have many opportunities to dance and listen and be with you in the coming year. With Love, Marc
Vicki – this is so, so beautiful. I couldn’t admire you more, and resonate with so much of what you say here. It breaks my heart open (again). Sending you so much love.
Thank you for this beautiful piece that moved me to laughter (CRAFT) and tears. I think often of those who have journeyed before me from boisterous to quiet sage. At 51, I am seeing and feeling signs that I will suffer the same fate as everyone else. I used to and sometimes still joke about no one getting out alive, but now I know that means me too, which both scares me (especially when I look in the mirror) and fills me with immense gratitude every day. My life energy is finite. How will I spend it in this moment?
Vicki, have been an important part of my journey. Your book, “Your Money or Your Life”, changed my life. I look to you, and others like you, to light the way ahead with grace. Thank you for being brilliantly and authentically you.
wow! Perfect timing, thanks. A few days away from 80….how has that happened?
Came upon your wonderful essay and poem rather circuitously as I broke up with FB several yrs ago, but don’t get me started. You have always had a marveluZ gift of gab and terrific sense of humor and your insights are always right on the money (yes, a pun from the YMOYL incarnation.) Keep on keeping on Dahlink, sharing your wry wit and well trod wisdom … it ain’t over ’til it’s over and I myself don’t believe it’s ever over … just changes form. Should you ever find yourself exploring the Land of Enchantment here in NM, do come and visit me in Santa Fe. Hopefully I’ll still remember who you are and will recognize you when you knock on my door. Big love, Crispy Girl
You mentioned a yearlong program on Aging to Saging which will explore the tasks of Eldering. I went to their website, but it wasn’t clear to me which one you were referring to.