- Turning towards the end
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
Go to Vicki’s Blog main page