After reading two posts ( “Wyrrd”, by Lisa Thompson of field notes: and “Elderhood”, by Robert Brady, of Pure Land Mountain ) that addressed thoughts about getting older, plus having an involved discussion with three of my early-twenties students, I got to doing a lot of thinking over this last week. I am rolling through my forty second summer this year and in many ways it is like stepping through another door. I still remember when I was a teenager witnessing my parents go through the troubling time of their middle years and coming upon a book that my mother was reading then, “Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life” by Gail Sheehy. I remember thinking at that time that when I reach forty I would not let myself go through what they did. Somehow I would prepare myself for it and find a way to sail through. Now the years are here and as Sheehy predicts in her book, the weathering of the storms cannot be prepared for. Even battening down the hatches does no good. All you can do is stick through it and keep your eye on the light.
The thoughts and emotions of getting older have changed me. Where once I was so certain, almost glib at times, of what is right and wrong, and how I ought to be waking up each morning, with what attitudes and goals hence I ought to be taking, the edges have frayed somewhat and the colors softened. The whole body of life enveloping me eddies past with a deeper urgency, at once more poignant and precious because more and more there seems less of it. And because I realize more acutely that I am not really so very different from anyone else; a discovery that has helped me empathize more with others’ struggle with life.
Whenever a youngerly person announces that they have experienced no real heartache or disappointment, that bounty has dropped in their laps without cuffing their knees or scraping their elbows I have to wonder if they have really lived. For me, at least, living means half pressing into the blurry promise of dreams and stepping forth blindly when there is no promise of return. Taking chances. Staying out alone in the woods and wrestling with the early fears until you can close your eyes and rest, safe in the knowledge that alone you are all right. And it means facing the possibility of rejection, and plunging into the waters of love. People will come and go all your life, but they also constitute some of the truest reflections of yourself and of intimacy with the world.
Over the last two years a nameless fury, fueled by the state of shock that the world went through, raged through me, over childhood injustices, over failures on my parents part, over my marriage, over growing older without having stepped into that state of grace that I always imagined I would have by now.
And then, last winter, it petered out. The rage just seemed a tendril from the past that I had to learn to let go of. To learn to forgive and move on. A sense of tranquility, yet not complacency, wafted through the clouds. And it was as if I had woken from a long sleep.
Such understanding, though there might be precociously mature kids around, cannot be garnered from books or from acting cool or tough. It has to be earned, step by step. You have to rise and fall and then get up again, to feel it and know it in your bones.
And that, perhaps, is the attraction of getting older. And what perhaps the media today sorely misses.