dear old(er):
my best apple cake
and the beauty of lying fallow

IMG_7589

This is the fourth in a series of letters between me and my friend, author Margaret Roach, on the challenges (and joys!) of aging. I’m Old (just 56) and she’s Older (by 5 years). 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.  (Our earlier letters are here.)

Dear Margaret (my oldER friend),

There is something about these shorter days and longer, darker, colder nights. I’m wondering if you’re feeling it, too: the urge to hunker, to shut off the computer and read print on a page instead of a screen, to sip hot tea from a mug, to dress in layers of soft, comfy clothes, fashion be damned.

I’m turning lights on in my kitchen most days by three in the afternoon. And although I’m able now to drive my car, the truth is I’d rather be inside, cozied up on the loveseat with some pillows under my knees and my new favorite book in my lap. The impulse to stay put, safe and warm at home, is as strong as any pull to be out and about shopping for groceries or visiting friends.

This place I’m in now – mostly homebound, healing from one hip replacement and preparing my mind and body for another in a few short weeks – is definitely an in-between kind of territory, what a psychologist might call a “liminal space.”

I’ve always loved that word, liminal, so evocative and poetic. But I looked it up just now to make sure I’m using it correctly. Turns out, it derives from the Latin word limens, which means threshold – and it refers quite specifically to a discomfiting time of ambiguity, of not knowing, of disorientation.

So, yes! Liminal it is. And holing up at home here between surgeries, I do feel as if I’m being taken apart and put back together again, physically and spiritually. No wonder I feel so bare and vulnerable, so uncertain of the future and so hesitant to make any firm plans – even for next week. My body is busy with its cellular healing, but I seem to be doing some quiet, private, emotional work as well, absorbing the recent loss of my beloved friend, of my own worn-out body parts, and even of my old way of being in the world. [continue…]

bucket list

photo copy 6On Tuesday afternoons this past year I’ve been a traveling yoga teacher, lugging a bag full of straps and foam blocks and lavender eye pillows to a small elementary school in a nearby town.

My students, a dedicated handful of regulars, are all in their sixties, including the school principal and her now retired husband, who once taught English to my son Jack. We work gently together, accommodating a tricky hip (mine), chronic back pain, osteoporosis, balance issues, and the inevitable assortment of aches and injuries that are simply part of the territory now that we are no longer young.

Last fall, on the first afternoon I arrived at the school to teach, I was surprised by a few sudden tears the minute I walked through the front door. It hit me – suddenly, although certainly not for the first time — just how far down the road I’ve traveled from all that transpires each day in this tidy, welcoming brick building.

Everything I saw brought back a memory: The box of lost-and- found baseball caps and tangled sweatshirts, the collection of canned goods for the food pantry accumulating in the foyer, the children’s bright artwork on the walls, the sight of a lone L.L. Bean backpack forgotten in a corner, the distinctive smell of kids and chalk dust and used books and half-eaten lunches.

The question rose up hot and fierce as a reprimand in my chest: “Had I loved my life enough?”

The honest answer? Probably not. [continue…]

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…]

Dear Older (Love, Old)

sonata - Version 2This is the first 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). Who knows where it’s going, but since the subject keeps coming up, and we’re both writers…well, you get the idea. Listen in.  

Dear Old(er),

Yesterday afternoon, I spritzed on a bit of Sonata, and then I drove downtown to the lawyer’s office and signed my last will and testament.

I can tell you, seeing those words next to my own name at the top of the page was pretty strange – about as stark a reminder as I’ve had that, yes, the day will come when I won’t be here.

It’s funny how I can get so caught up in the minutiae of  my everyday life – the emails that need answers, the dishes in the sink, the bills on the desk, my annoyance at someone I can’t change or at something beyond my control – that I lose sight of the big things.

Such as the fact that although time and space are infinite, I am not.  No matter how I spend it, my own time will run out. There aren’t too many absolute truths in life, but this is one: nothing lasts, not even me.

Which is why I got up this morning and helped myself to another generous spray of Sonata, the nicest perfume I’ve ever owned (handcrafted at a tiny perfumery in Maine using all natural ingredients) and the only one I’ve ever loved.

The perfume was a Christmas gift from my dad.  Five years ago.  As you can see from the photo, the bottle is still full.  Yep. In five years, I’ve allowed myself to use my favorite perfume exactly twice.  Both occasions were formal weddings, so I felt they justified a bit of extravagance:  dressy necklace, expensive perfume. [continue…]