Monday, 23 July 2018

a question

Accompanied by Sheila's two Corgis, we began our walk at 9 a.m., avoiding the forecasted heat of the day.  Just as we were settling into a comfortable pace, Sheila suddenly asked me if I considered myself old.  Gulp.  Where did that come from?  In the quiet few moments following this question, my way younger friend added...."Because I don't consider you old."

The timing of her query was interesting.  Just two evenings ago, Brian and I had been with a group of friends, all of whom were at least 10 years younger than ourselves, and a couple were almost 15 years my junior. They were sharing their birthday information -- day, month and year of their birth-- in a kind of parlour game, based on the fascinating book, The Life You Were Born to Live by Dan Milman.

When the conversation shifted, I mentioned that my first teaching job in 1964 had been in Princeton, New Jersey.  Not missing a beat, Bill wondered if Einstein had been there at this same time. Consulting his iPhone, he discovered that, in fact, he had died nearly a full decade before, at the age of 76.

Perhaps it was only me who felt I was being associated with an earlier time, as an adult during their childhoods.

Continuing to consider Sheila's query, I noticed how pleased I was at a party last evening. A woman, many years younger than me, thought we were the same age.  And, earlier this year, when my daughter told me that a friend of hers thought I was very youthful, I quietly cheered.

As I write this, I wonder if  I want to simply appear younger or actually be young.

I wonder if I am perhaps expressing a sort of ageism, in seeming to discount my true numbers.

No, I realize that this isn't what I'm doing: I can appear "youthful" in mind and body and still be my 74-year-old self.

"Writing motivates you to look closely at life
as it lurches by and tramps around."    Anne Lamott

Ursula Le Guin writes in No Time to Spare, "I've lost faith in the saying, 'You're only as old as you think you are,' ever since I got old." She continues, "It is a saying with a fine heritage.  It goes right back to the idea of The Power of Positive Thinking, which is so strong in America because it so fits with the Power of Commercial Advertising and with the Power of Wishful Thinking, aka the American Dream."  She goes on to say, "If I'm ninety and believe I'm forty-five, I'm headed for a very bad time trying to get out of the bathtub.....Even if I'm seventy and think I'm forty, I'm fooling myself to the extent of almost certainly acting like an awful fool."

A woman I talked with last evening, who seemed to be my age, had her short hair in a rainbow of colours. She told me her regime. One day a walk, the next Zumba, the following a spin class...I cut her off before she could tell me about the other four days. She said that she and her friends had walked to Nanaimo last year, a five-day jaunt. What!?@#%  Just when I was feeling proud that I had a walk planned for the following day!

I reminded myself that a few days earlier, I had struggled to remove some very root-bound horsetails from a long tin planter. With a knife, I cut the mass into the three separate plants and, up to my elbows, struggled to lift the sections one by one.  It was difficult work. Taking a needed break after extracting one plant, I muttered "What in hell am I attempting to do at my age?!" I must have spoken it aloud, because my neighbour responded, from her side of the fence, that I was able to do it at my age simply because I was continuing to do it.

I guess so.  It sure beats walking to Nanaimo.

Responding to Sheila's question, I told her I feel my age number when I imagine that I possibly won't be alive to see my beautiful grandkids fully grown up. The age I am tells me to return to Cuba this year and not to wait. To tell the people I cherish that I love them. To eat that piece of almond shortcake from Tonelli's Deli.

I feel my age number and a pain in my heart whenever I reread this quote from Like Normal People (Karen Bender),  “Ella looked out the window and tried to imagine a future without herself.  The world would not need her any more than it had needed her before she was born."

I've already outlived my mother, who died before her 70th birthday.  My father lived to be 79. Their lives were shortened considerably as they were both heavy smokers, and this greatly compromised their health.

When our walk was over and we were making tentative plans for our next excursion,  I said to Sheila,  "No, I don't consider myself old."

Find the thing in you that is different, that’s as sharp as a diamond and jagged as a razor. Hone that, because that’s the thing with which you’ll cut the world. If you try to stay a safe and soft and average, then you’re going to get lost in the sea of all those other things that look just like you. Find the things about yourself that are weird and cultivate them because, eventually, those are the things the world is going to want to reward you for and that will bring you the most happiness. When you’re young, those are the things that cause you so much pain, but it’s that pain that makes you unique. Own your scars.


  1. Loved your last entry. And I want those shoes or at least the photo. m.g.

  2. This made me smile and tear up and ponder....which I loved, thanks Deb

  3. Super wise. I love following your blog. I especially appreciate your reflections on aging and art. With both parents now at the end of their lives, living in long term care, I feel as though I have been immersed in lessons of life, letting go, the importance of squeezing out every drop. And the importance of knowing we all age, everything is impermanent. I love thinking about all of this, even though some of it is scary. I want to work through the fear and find the beauty in it. I have done that and I continue to strive to do that. And reading your wise words written from a place of the 'Other Side of Seventy' really helps with this. Thank you!