Perspective on Living a Life

The way the light hits my art room in the evening makes me wonder why I don’t spend more time here. A soft orange glow from salt lamps and sharp rays of golden-hour sun dance on the walls in splendor. This space is so inviting and warm. So it was as I sat down to try and compose a blog post last night.  

This morning is a different story. Colorless sky and dime-sized raindrops dotting the landscape outside, I pull on my knitted throw to give me some extra inside-warmth. I have started this post a half-dozen times and erased it an equal number. I am the queen of second-guessing these days which proves surprisingly unhelpful in every endeavor and most notably in this one. 

My friends have been writing about their trips and adventures while my own plans have  stalled. I’m ready to throw in the towel on “planning” when the words of a friend come back to me: “having plans is not folly, only attachment to them is.” Touché.

While I’m grateful for the chance to live vicariously through others, FOMO is beginning to settle in where my dreams were residing and the heaviness is palpable. What then can I write about when when I’m stuck in such a rut?

With my calendar unlikely to free itself up, my mind turns away from the future (for which I have no control) and I find myself looking back instead. Every moment now becomes a story of the past. I will skip back a few years for this one. I have a sneaking suspicion that stepping into another time is exactly the right thing for this moment and will guide me as I try one more time to write this post. 

In November of 1987 my grandmother Marjorie had a massive stroke at home. Just 73 years old, she was on her couch in the living room talking on the phone when her words began to slur. In just minutes it became clear that something was very wrong. Brain cells begin to die almost immediately. Even with a quick medical response her life changed in an instant. 

It would be days before I could see her and months before she came home. When she was finally able to leave rehab, my Mom set up a schedule at their house so that she had a had a regular stream of visitors and my grandfather could get the much needed breaks he needed. Mom was there most every day but she couldn’t do it all.

In 1987 I was working as Executive Chef at the Bellevue Hilton. My visits with her came after work and I arrived smelling like onions, basil and coffee. Back then there was probably beer too. These were the days before sobriety and I remember them all too well. I was pretty self-absorbed back then and I wasn’t prepared for what lie ahead.

In 1988 May Sarton published a journal called After the Stroke. I discovered it when I was looking for some measure of understanding for what my grandmother was going through. I gave it to her and read parts of it aloud on our visits. I had inspired her earlier to begin a journal of her own to help with writing and memory. This journal of May’s was such a gift to us both. 

When I hold pieces of my grandmother’s journal in my hands today it brings tears to my eyes. It gives some perspective to the feelings of loss I feel over my “hoped for” plans in retirement not yet materializing. My circumstance isn’t loss, it’s inconvenience. Big difference.

A year after her stroke, almost to the day, she had a second stroke that would take her life just days later. She had changed over the course of that year, and only as I look back decades later, do the lessons become clear. Though frustrated by her circumstance she never let anger take over. She laughed more and worried less. She resigned herself to needing help and let those closest to her care for her needs. While she couldn’t hide her disappointment some days, I don’t remember her ever feeling sorry for herself. 

Regardless of what contortions we put ourselves through, our lives will inevitably become smaller. I feel my own circle tightening up as I become older too. There were years given to growth and now years given to the kind of fine-tuning necessary for living my best life. 

Age is such a funny thing. We’re like cars, I suppose. Batteries and brakes give out over time. Occasionally a belt snaps or our cooling system fails. Paint goes dull, tires wear down, windows crack and sometimes engines freeze up at the core. So what can we do when that happens?

We can get new tires, fix the brakes and windshield, and replace the battery. You live with the dents and the dull paint. It won’t be the envy at the car wash or turn any heads on the freeway, but it costs little more than attentiveness to keep it running and it takes you where you need to go. Slower, and less flashy maybe, but it will get you there. 

A friend of mine recently posted a short essay on “aging” to her website. Although we are a decade apart she touched on some universal themes that got me to thinking more about how these advancing years manifest in my own life. She wrote about “inner ageism” and perceptions and how caring for (or partnering with) our parents as they age can really deepen the focus of what it looks like to get older. 

It’s one thing to note the changes in our own lives but still another to get such an intimate peek at what may lie ahead. Spending time with my parents I learn something every day. I’ve started paying attention to all the things my parents can still do (and do well) rather than the growing list of limitations. Blessing in disguise? A good reminder for me that what I go looking for is not the same as what I find. 

I just walked the dog around the neighborhood for our afternoon exercise. We are stepping out of the heat and moving into the season of “no mountain views” as clouds fill the sky with linen white. Fall is just weeks away and I imagine myself slipping deeper into the autumn of my own life. Yoda still insists on walking his beat (albeit a little slower these days) but maybe he’s about to slip into a new season too. 

We take it all in. 

What do you think of when you hear the words old and elder? It’s a question for our time.

Just for fun I thought I would share a few average lifespans that might surprise you.

As of 2021:

Average lifespan for women  79 yrs

Average lifespan for Sandhill cranes 20-30 yrs
(as long as 80 in captivity)

Average lifespan for great-horned owls 20-30 yrs
(as long as 50 in captivity)

Average lifespan for bald eagles 15-20 yrs
(as long as 50 in captivity)

Average lifespan for great blue heron 5-15 yrs
( as long as 24 in captivity; also 70% of great blue heron die in their first year)

Average lifespan for green herons 8 yrs
(as long as 11 in captivity)

Average lifespan of hummingbirds 3-5 yrs
(as long as 10 in captivity)

You can read the short essay that inspired this post for me HERE. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

“The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.”   ~Madeleine L’Engle

8 Comments on “Perspective on Living a Life

  1. You wrote yourself into something wise, interesting and well written. I like how you moved through the doubt and frustration to find what you wanted to say. The past leads us into the present and back again, doesn’t it?

    I just came out of a joyful week in which Alan and I were the oldest of the 100 or so people there, as young as 2. Sometimes I felt old, but I think that was all inside my head, not theirs. I listened to their stories of travels and adventures and youthful pivots, and gave a sigh of desire. But I also listened to parents of young children recite their list of chores and responsibilities, which one described as a daily trainwreck. Those in their 50s talked about dreams and plans for retiring, anxious to see an end to being so beholden to others. And while I often feel creakier, less able, slower, it helped me to appreciate the experience, knowing, and satisfaction of being 68 and still able to do what it takes to take care of me and mine. So, I guess it goes back and forth, just like I am all the ages in my head, I’m 17, I’m 35, I’m 50. It’s a package deal. We best be here for it all.

    • Thanks Nancy. Isn’t it funny how we all think “retirement” somehow equates to being less beholden to others? It seems like it’s a good practice to surround yourself with people from every age group. Maybe it helps tap into all of our own “other ages”. Goals are different now, dreams too, but there is some measure of comfort knowing that the wreckage of the past has passed. The new goals and dreams are meaningful too and there is nothing quite like having better learned to appreciate today. Thanks for sharing*

  2. Nice words of wisdom from your own life, Bonnie. It was interesting how much longer your featured animals lived in captivity. Loved your artwork and quotes, especially the one about two roads.

    • As always, thanks so much for being here. It is interesting the difference between wild and captive, although I’m not really too surprised. Threat management would be a huge factor but I suspect there is always a price to pay when you take adventure out of the equation too. I love the two roads quote too.

  3. Jude, thank you so much for writing. I’m grateful that you are finding your way through these post-work years, too. I’m really glad that some of my choices have been relatable to you as well. I so agree that the world is ready for healing and I hope we can find our way forward. I feel a little less safe in the world these days and I really need to not let that color my choices. I tend to think I’m largely doing exactly what I want, and I am just looking to broaden my horizons. Hope you are still planning a trip west. Would love to walk with you. Thank you so much for sharing here.

  4. Hi Bonnie and thank you for sharing some of your thoughts on leaning into our humanness as our spirits age, along with our bodies. One of the aspects that resonates deeply within me is the theme of perspective and how it shifts over time and circumstance. I retired about four months into the global COVID pandemic and, like you, had many plans that had to be set aside while the world turned inward to do some healing. I am still searching for my new roadmap on how to navigate this next phase of my life in a world that seems to be more traumatized than ever and lacks the skills, systems, motivation and will to heal, so that all beings can thrive. Fires, floods, hurricanes, etc. seem to be the Earth’s way of telling us that we need to pay closer attention to what matters – what can bring healing, connection, awareness of beauty and a deeper sense of how our individual actions, attitudes, beliefs, writings, images, practices, etc. contribute to the healing of the Whole. Even though your daily life might not look like what you thought (or dreamed) it would look like, please know that how you are living your life and sharing your journey makes a huge impact within the Web of Life. And you have given me many reminders of how my own leaning into what it means to be human, my own healing, my own intention to pay closer attention and live a purposeful life, also contributes to the well-being of the whole. Please keep doing life your way, making photos and art, writing and revising and sharing your reflections. You matter. Your life matters. Thank you. Jude

  5. This is all so rich. One of my grandmothers died in 1988 too. But she was 99; and, I don’t think, had ever enjoyed life. Seventy-four, that is so young; I’m nearly that myself.

    You know I hear you on feeling life slipping by while you provide care for parents. I was also 60 when that began. I thought by the time I got my life back, I would be too old for those dreams. At 71, I think I’m doing okay! And you will too. And you are, it’s just that the adventures are close to home right now, and involve a camera and taking amaZing photographs and learning to really see.

    As for ageism, a friend posted a meme the other day that reads, “Where does it say we have to act our age? As long as it makes me happy and I’m not hurting anyone, I’ll act whatever age I want to!” To which I replied, “Who said THIS age can’t act like that?” It’s like “you look younger than your age.” Maybe this is what this age looks like, at least on that person or this one. What would you be doing right now if you weren’t doing what you are doing?

    • Thanks for this. The years since I retired have been full of many unplanned things. My retirement began with the loss of two friends, followed by Covid, health challenges for my folks (and a big move for them as well) and some unexpected news for Kelly. Everything feels manageable now but I can’t seem to get any traction. Lots of wheel spinning, for sure. I read something this morning from Trudy Goodman that really resonated: 

      “I’ve been going through a time that is not what I wanted it to be. Letting go of my hopes and expectations lets me be present with what is, in the quiet place in my heart. Any time you practice letting go of the way you want it to be – and enjoy anything about the present moment, you can feel simple joy in being alive along with compassion for the tough stuff.Trust that you are just as much that calm space inside of you as you are the mind that pulls you away from being grounded there.”

      Amen to all of that. You leave me with a good question too, and I will spend some time pondering that. (And yes, you are doing very well!) Thanks for being here*

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