On Getting On

Cali.2014.6photoAncient, hunched, lost. The woman standing next to me in the spice aisle of the grocery store muttered to herself about not being able to find the garlic. Searching out my own exotic spice, I happened upon garlic and pointed it out to her. She thanked me and said “I’m so blind.”

She wasn’t literally blind; her eyes had no problem meeting mine. I made a comment about knowing how she felt. Until I had cataract surgery, I’d been severely near-sighted my entire life. I quickly learned she had not only cataracts but floaters and some type of macular degeneration.

My style is generally not one that includes striking up casual conversation with strangers in grocery stores. But this is Christmas, I am getting older myself, and felt some empathy toward this silver-haired woman. So I tried kindness. “But you’re doing so well!” Cooking for the holidays is a good sign, right?

IMG_1195.JPG“I hate it,” she said. “All of the things I used to do, I can’t do anymore. I’m 87. It’s hell.”

She went on to list ways her life had contracted, ways her body had betrayed her. “I’m so sorry,” I said, gently extracting myself from the litany of misery. Despite what her words conveyed, I had a sense that she was a strong person. And there was something about her that drew me in despite my usual grocery store reserve.

I suppose I looked for a possible future self in her. Since turning 60, I have noticed my body doesn’t bounce back from slings and arrows as it once did. Pema Chodron, Buddhist nun and bestselling author, says that it’s a fact of life everyone needs to accept: the body will get old (unless it doesn’t, which is perhaps a worse option), the body will break down, there will be pain, the body will die.

Photo on 10-20-14 at 5.39 AMOnly days after I read this unsettling passage from Pema’s work, I encountered the silver-haired elder. In fact, the grocery store seemed bursting with senior citizens. Far more than usual. Everyone, even the meals on wheels brigade, comes out for supplies during the holidays.

But as I had questioned Pema’s assertion, something she seemed to think was a given, not up for discussion, so too did I reject the spice aisle lady’s premise that aging is something to despise. Perhaps I am being wishful and romantic, but I like to think that every age has its gifts. That moving closer to the end does not have to be painful and fraught with negativity.

Is it possible to grow older with peace? To put the pain of aging bones into perspective, to think of our bodies, even as they fail, as being full of grace? Tis the season for wishes, and this is mine.

 

 

 

 

9 Comments on “On Getting On

  1. Enjoyed your post, Cynthia. I know so many positive, healthy and fit older women that it doesn’t bother me at all getting older (I’m at a similar age to you!), apart from realising even more that I should stop procrastinating and get on with everything I want to do. My mother died some years ago just after her 80th birthday from unexpected pneumonia and had still been dancing only the week before – I hope I’m still dancing at that age!

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  2. Yes, this was indeed a lovely post. I’m now 64. My mind is still about 18. Some bits of me feel a bit older. But some part of me is eternal. Either my spirit or my optimism.

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  3. Even though my aging body has other ideas, I am trying to grow old gracefully, even though I once swore to do it disgracefully! I would do almost anything right now, for some real peace…
    I hope your journey brings you all you wish for, no making do…

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    • Jaye, I think part of it is making peace with inevitable physical pain. I don’t think anyone escapes the physical pain that comes with aging, and for some it comes earlier and harder. When there is nowhere to hide from the pain, I listen to a recording by Jon Kabat Zinn called Meditation for Pain that I found on iTunes. It helps more than I ever thought possible. xo

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  4. I think the positives outweigh the negatives, C. At the moment I’m doing some Twitter even though I have a load of stuff I need to be doing that involves moving around (getting ready for houseguest coming tomorrow), because I’ve already done a lot today and my knees and back hurt, the left knee quite badly. 10 years ago, I could have cleaned the whole flat in one day, AND done all the shopping. Now, my body needs rest and the joints ache!

    I hate my sagging jowls, my midriff bulge that I suspect is here to stay, and the fact that I don’t have enough years left to do all the stuff I want to. But I’m quite happy with the rest 🙂

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    • Glad to hear another positive voice, Terry, although I do hear you on what an additional ten years can do for stamina or lack thereof…and I’ve got the jowls, belly bulge, and bad knee to match yours:) Even a year ago, I would not have believed the “bad knee” part. Small price to pay for this lovely life!

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