When my daughter was seventeen, she told me that she hoped I liked her, because she wasn’t going to go through any more phases. She was finished with them. The person she was, would be the person she remained, for the rest of her life. I told her that would be remarkable, since I was continuing to go through phases myself. Little did I know then how much things could (and would) change. And it’s not really that I wasn’t aware that there would be changes – of course I was. What I couldn’t know then is how I would feel about them, and how they could change me.
Take my body, for instance. Cat Stevens sings, “Lord my body, it’s been a good friend. . . “. Mine – not so much. I enjoyed good health most of my life, but recently, it feels like my brain – my thoughts – are completely separate from my physical self. I feel vulnerable to illness. I find myself thinking about my physical condition too much of the time. I notice all the “normal” aches and pains, and wonder if they might indicate something frightening. I used to hear jokes about how older people only talked about their (lack of) health, and now it’s what I do! I need to change this pattern of thought and I need to filter my conversations both with myself and others.
My relationships are all different. My children no longer need me. They are busy living, and I am no longer integral to their lives. If you had asked me while I was raising them what I wanted most, it would be for them to be happy, independent and thriving. All three of them are just that. But when weeks go by and they don’t call, or when I try to call and no one answers repeatedly, I feel lost. The rituals I used to enjoy no longer exist. They live far away, in three different places, and seeing each other is more of a priority than seeing me. And again, I want that. In my heart, I really do want that more than anything else. But when I am reminded of it, I feel lost.
My relationship with my husband is different. I don’t know how to make love anymore. I feel like a shy teenager. I don’t know where to put my arms, or how to touch him in a meaningful way. I find myself saying “no” to his attempts at intimacy. It became automatic, and then it became my habit. I hardly noticed saying no. We used to constantly touch each other. We held hands whenever we walked, we sat close to each other while relaxing, even in the car, my hand would be on his knee. Has my loss of comfort with sex evolved into an inability to reach out to him casually as well? I want our need for affection back. I don’t want to settle for distance from each other. I think physical distance can lead to emotional distance, and I couldn’t stand that. My heart would break if that happened.
My work life has changed. I am retired, and spend my days doing things that I choose rather than what urgently needs to be done. While I love this life, and I do, my identity as a successful woman has changed. I have no status as a working woman, and no financial independence. When people ask me what I “do”, I answer, “I am retired”. Then the conversation either goes to my husband’s work, or it ends. There is little interest in what I *did*, or even how retirement is going. The subject is closed.
I live in a place unlike any other that I have lived. For most of my adult life, I lived in the city of Pittsburgh. My neighbors were so close, I could hear them speaking to each other through the open window. Our yard was too small to have a respectable garden, and the street so busy with traffic that throughout the night, we constantly heard cars, buses and sirens. For the past four years, I have lived on a lake in the woods. A car goes by my house only a few times a day. There are no buses, and I have never heard a siren from inside my home. The stars are spectacularly bright, and the quiet almost audible.
My neighbors are different. In the city, neighbors all around me were well-educated, liberal, and financially stable – even moderately wealthy. The few neighbors I have currently value school sports more than they do academics. When people talk about “school choice”, they are not referring to the excellence of the education. They are talking about which high school has a soccer team, or the best football team. High school students rarely consider attending college, and if they do, they only consider one close to home. The possibility of going out of state is unheard of, and even the best universities in the state are out of reach. Not because they couldn’t attend, but because they don’t even think of attending. Nor do their parents encourage such a possibility.
All of these changes show me that I am still evolving. But I want to age with grace; I want to have as much energy as I do time. I want to spend my time getting better – smarter, healthier, more spiritually confident and closer to the people I love. I want my older years to be years that I spend only on important things. At the end of each day, I want to feel proud of what I have accomplished, what I have thought about, and who I have touched. That is what this blog is going to be about – sharing my efforts to regain control and make more deliberate choices. Moving from passivity to activity. Not one day at a time, but one hour, even minute, at a time.