Life as a “senior” brings with it both challenges and insights that you might have thought you were prepared for, but (at least in my case) weren’t. When you realize that you really are going to have to budget the time you have left, it can be daunting. Do you (I hate writing in the second person – I promise it won’t last) run like a mad person, trying to fit everything you ever wanted to do but couldn’t into the last few years, or do you try to accept that it isn’t going to happen, and become mindful? Mindfulness is supposed to cure you of the frenzy- help you to accept and cherish every minute no matter what it brings you. Be “present” on the toilet, at the grocery store, or when someone breaks your heart; that way everything is special. I totally understand the advantages of that sort of deliberate consciousness and even pragmatism, but honestly I don’t think it’s enough.
Many people advance the argument that one (not sure that’s better than second person) never really knows how long they will live. Mahatma Gandhi and many others (including 50s heartthrob James Dean) have been quoted saying something like “live each day as if it were your last.” I get that – I really do- and I have lost people all too soon in my life, like both of my siblings, and Gary Weist, whose brother decided to try to beat a train across the tracks in the summer between Gary and my 8th and 9th grade years. Gary had asked me to go steady after summer, and I had agreed. Some things just stick with you (or me, as it were). Anyway, I get that you really never know when your life will come to an end, but as I get older, the idea that even with the best of luck the sand in my hourglass is getting low, well, it’s a different kind of realization. All of a sudden I find myself having to think about making choices based not on money or time off from work, but rather on a sort of “bucket list”. Here’s the irony, though: what difference does it make? I’ve always wanted to travel, but sometimes, when I am being very honest with myself, I wonder if it’s just another way to try to cheat death. After all, I can’t dream of places like Lisbon or Tierra del Fuego without also thinking about time spent. Time spent in one place is of necessity spent away from someplace else. Just so, time spent with friends is generally spent away from family, at least in my life. This isn’t such a big deal when time doesn’t seem as finite as it does when hair begins to gray and skin to seriously wrinkle. All of a sudden, each planned journey or activity must of needs be balanced with every other; again, not because of money or time off of work but because in the end life really is a zero sum game. Death will not be cowered or deterred, nor will it be predicted. Not to be maudlin, but death-delivering lumps, rashes and disintegrations of all kinds can pop up at any time like unwelcome relatives, saying “the time has come to set the countdown clock.”
And then, something comes along that perhaps is designed to help you make the transition to slowing to a stop: you find that your body is incapable of doing things it used to do. All of a sudden you have bad knees, upper arms that flap like jibs in the wind, and copious amounts of subcutaneous fat, none of which helps when what you really want to do is take up paddle boarding (and look great doing it.)
And then of course there is that other life you were supposed to have – or thought you might get around to someday. Or maybe more than one other life. I never understood women who said all they ever wanted to be was a mother. Don’t get me wrong; motherhood is the best part of my life without a doubt, but like Kahil Gibran said, your children are really only on loan to you (not the exact quote, clearly) – they belong to the future, and to life itself. Therefore, you have to find something that makes your life worth living. Something that makes you jump out of bed in the morning ready to live life like a firecracker. But is that a zero sum too? I always wanted to be in the theatre (notice the spelling). Early on it was clear that my voice and body were not meant for performance, but that didn’t stop me from wishing I was part of that world. Has anyone written a really good musical about Eleanor Roosevelt; her heartbreak over Franklin’s affair, her dedication to the poor, her ability to rise above the ugly things said about her to become an inspiration for millions of girls and women? I should have done that.
Or… I should have joined the Peace Corps in my twenties and made a difference in some far off place with people who were suffering and struggling just to live instead of partying and trying to find the American Dream (not easy to do simultaneously, but I wasn’t the only one thinking we could somehow merge the two).