Otherwise

heart of stoneLong after most of my friends in their fifties had given up running, I continued.  Not every day, and not very far, and not for very long.  Better, I thought, to save my knees to run again another day than to push myself to go another mile or another twenty minutes.  For the last few years, I’ve run less in the hope of running longer.  If I was careful, I figured, I would run right into my sixties.

Even so, there wasn’t a morning that I laced up my sneakers and headed down the road with the wind in my hair, fresh air filling my lungs, and my beloved border collie Gracie trotting at my heels, that a line by poet Jane Kenyon didn’t cross my mind: “But one day, I know, it will be otherwise.”

“Otherwise” is Jane Kenyon’s hymn of gratitude to her life just as it was on one blessed, ordinary day — gratitude that is burnished by her own profound awareness of life’s fleetingness, of change, of mortality.

The lines of this heart-breakingly prescient poem always give me pause.  Jane Kenyon died of leukemia at forty-seven. Her “otherwise” came tragically soon, a stark reminder – as is every untimely death or freak accident or life-changing diagnosis – that our very existence here is fragile, unpredictable, not to be taken for granted.

And yet, I suspect I’m not alone when I admit that most days it’s a challenge to maintain that perspective. Perhaps it’s human nature to weave ourselves a thin, protective mantle of denial about life’s one and only absolute truth: nothing lasts.

Waking up in the morning, I set my sights on the beginnings of things, not the endings – I run through my to-do list, ponder the essay I want to write, wonder where I’ll find the hour I need to exercise, think about the talk I’ll give next week. Before long, I’m preoccupied with bills to pay, emails to answer, the dishes piled in the sink. The preciousness of life is rarely uppermost in my mind as I deal with what the day hands me; too often, instead, I find myself succumbing to frustration at the way things are:  not what I’d planned, not quite up to my expectations, not this, not that. [continue...]

Dear Older, about these cars. . .

sport-fury-brougham“We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden.” ~Goethe

This is the second in a series of letters between me and my friend, author Margaret Roach, on the challenges (and joys!) of aging. I’m Old (just 55) and she’s Older (facing 60 this year). And since we’re surely not the only ones buying wrinkle creams, we decided to share our exchange with you, too.  Be sure to read Margaret’s letter to me here.   

Dear Older,

Oh Margaret! You would have to bring up our cars.

Well, I’m not going to lie about age here.  Yes, my Acura is ten years old.  And she’s about to roll over 170,000 miles – that’s a lot of trips taken, a great deal of life lived, many bridges crossed.

Buying this car was the first thing Steve and I did in 2003 when we left the suburbs of Boston and moved back to my country roots.  If we were going to make our home in a place where the last snow might not melt til mid-April, I wanted a car that would carry me through our Northern winters without too much anxiety on my part.  “Good in snow” was my top priority when we went out shopping for new wheels.

It’s worth remembering that gas cost $1.54 a gallon when we arrived in New Hampshire to embark on this new life.  “Good mileage” was on my list, but it was somewhere below good visibility, comfort, and safety.

Jack was eleven and Henry was just starting high school when I began driving the kids around rural New Hampshire in my brand new silver MDX. (Family trips we took in our Toyota Sienna minivan – plenty of room for two parents, two boys, one dog and gear for all, and already showing the wear and tear of four years of hard daily use.) The Acura was the nice car.  My car.  And, I’ll admit: it was and is the only car I’ve ever loved.

A little back story:  I’m not a natural behind the wheel.  I shudder to recall my first solo forays on our rural roads after I got my driver’s license in 1974.  The car: my parents’ 1970 red Plymouth Fury sedan, graciously bequeathed to me.  The most notable feature of that car was its size.  Huge. I have vague, unsettling memories even now of drifting around curves in the road, wondering if I was going a little too fast, fighting to hold the car on the pavement, straining to sit tall enough in the broad, slippery seat to see out the windshield.  [continue...]

Pub date! (Music, photos & books to win)

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Today is the official paperback release of Magical Journey.

Paperback publications of quiet, mid-list memoirs don’t generally get reviews or ad budgets or press releases or parties.

But I’m pretty excited about today anyway. The fact Magical Journey even made it into a paperback edition is incredibly gratifying.  It means this close-to-my-heart book will find its way to many more readers in the months to come.  (Thanks to some energetic advance footwork by the terrific Magical Journey Team, this is already happening!)  Reason enough to celebrate, right?

So, this morning I thought, Why not mark pub date with an intimate on-line party right here, in the space where we meet each week to converse, connect, and share stories of our lives?

First, some music. . .

Exactly two years ago this week, I was holed up in my mom’s guest room, writing five or six hours a day.  To stay sane, I took long walks.  One afternoon, while listening to a Pandora station through my earbuds, I found myself stopped in my tracks on the sidewalk, tears streaming down my cheeks. [continue...]

Change

GraceI’ve been paying close attention to the weather lately.  Over the last few days, frost has claimed the last of the nasturtiums outside the kitchen door.  The maple tree, as of yesterday, is bare, save for two golden leaves stubbornly clinging.

“The leaves fell so much earlier than usual this year,” I’ve been saying to my husband, as if we’ve been deprived of something; an extra week of gazing at them perhaps.  “It’s gotten colder sooner.”  He doesn’t believe me, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.

And then it occurs to me:  I have a record.

It was just a year ago that two young filmmakers from Boston drove up to our house in New Hampshire to shoot the book trailer for Magical Journey.  I was watching the weather pretty closely that week, too, worried it would be freezing by the time we finally had a shot list together and that late October would prove too stark and wintry to allow for the kind of carefree outdoor moments I’d been envisioning.

I haven’t watched the video myself for a year, not since the day I okayed the final cut and sent it off to my publisher to post on YouTube, with fingers crossed that it might inspire a few book sales.  Perhaps some movie stars get used to seeing themselves on film or hearing the sound of their own recorded voices, but I doubt I ever will.  It’s easier not to look. [continue...]

This is 55

H & KI’ve been fifty-five for a little over a week now. Rounding this corner, finding myself squarely in the long-shadowed afternoon of my own life, has given me pause.

I’ve spent a lot of time lately gazing out the window in my kitchen, watching the sunlit leaves float from tree to ground.  The days, the hours, even the moments, feel ripe and full — time to be cherished rather than rushed through.

And so, on this autumn afternoon I shut my laptop.  For the first time in years, I pick up a pad of paper and a pen instead.  I grab a sweater and head outside to write.  Perhaps what I’m yearning for is a different kind of knowing – words that come from the still, silent place in my soul, a glimpse of my own depths, some intimation of my rightful place in the world now that I’ve crested the arc of life and begun my descent down the other side.

55.  How strange it feels to write that pair of fives, to associate them with me. Have I really been alive that long, half a century plus five?  And what exactly am I, now that I’m no longer technically middle-aged but not exactly old yet, either?

I turn to a fresh page, brush a stray leaf from my hair.  [continue...]