My friend, Nedra, texts, “So what are the BIG plans for your birthday?”
There are no BIG plans, at least right now. I don’t want a cake this year. The thoughtful husband usually buys a lovely cake, and while quite delicious, chocolate topped with vanilla icing, sprinkled with tons of coconut, it is not vegan so he won’t eat any of it. So, I either slice it into 16 portions, freeze them and dole them out to myself one at a time, or I chop off a big slab for his co-workers and eat the rest. Either way, I end up eating a lot of cake and can still conjure up the speedy sugar high from last year.
Flowers too have their down side. While the reds, pinks and yellows please the eye, they often contain lilies or some other bloom toxic to animals, which means I have to hide them away from the cats, shut them up in a little-used room, and no one ends up enjoying them.
And at our age, gifts don’t make a lot of sense. It’s experiences I crave, not more things.
We may amble on down to a new gastropub, the 4th Street Fillin Station. They serve a sweet potato poke that sounds delish!
What my friend doesn’t mention is that I am turning 65. Here’s where I shudder with horror—and I really do (kind of).
It’s hardly a shock as I’ve been preparing for this milestone over the last few months, filing for and receiving my Medicare card, filing and soon to be receiving modest retirement benefits from The Washington Post.
Still, what a fat bunch of mixed reactions THIS reality evokes!
Here’s just a sampling of what I’ve recently noticed:
- That I look my age. That wasn’t always the case, but sadly, or perhaps, inevitably, it is now. Although vigilant with slapping on the sunscreen, fourteen years in the Florida sun and susceptible genes perhaps, have taken a toll on this thin-skinned, once fair-haired lady. In a new collection of essays, Fifty Things That Aren’t My Fault, Cathy Guisewite, speaks to advancing decrepitude, “In Loving Memory of the Legs I Used to Hate,” where she waxes wistful for what she once had. She says, “The legs I’ve always hated have overnight been replaced by Grandma’s legs. The young legs I used to think were so horrible have suddenly, irrevocably, turned into old-person legs that actually are. I stare in disbelief.” Recently, one morning in the shower I looked down and noticed that my leg skin, once taut and tight, now sags and gathers in pleated folds above my knees, which I believe qualifies me as an honorary member of Guisewite’s club.
- That I am actually entertaining the notion that I don’t have to be productive all the time to prove that I have worth. Although this loss of drive to constantly do SOMETHING might have more to do with suffering losses over this past year, which have cratered my heart so deeply that I now feel victorious when I trade my pajamas for sweats by noon to waddle out to the end of the driveway to pick up the mail, so maybe, I’ll have to stay tuned to see if this is a permanent shift or just part of grieving.
- That I fear something will happen to Jim. “Don’t you die and leave me here in Florida,” I say to him (like it’s hell on earth) on those not-so-rare occasions when we talk about our mortality. He laughs and says that in all likelihood I’ll outlive him, but that doesn’t make me feel any better. This nebulous unease is like a low-grade hum, always in the background, and I spin-out bad-case scenarios around his routine comings and goings, a late arrival from work alarming enough to get me to pondering about how to put up the relatives arriving for his memorial service.
- Fatigue: I’m tired a lot more, and find people and events more often draining than invigorating.
- That I am interested in just about everything under the sun, and perhaps, it’s time to be more discerning in what I choose to do and with whom I spend my time.
- That I am more willing to see (or at least consider) that we humans (especially the ones I disagree with politically) are multi-dimensional, and more complicated (and interesting) than uni-dimensional caricatures captured in incendiary headlines.
- I know deep in my bones how fortunate I am. Fortunate to have the time, the resources, and the freedom to ponder all the above and allow what my mother once described as my over-active imagination to run wild.
The reality, on the cusp of this birthday, is that I am a wholly human being, capable of great kindness and great cruelty (read judgment) living in a beautiful flawed place, a stone’s throw (well, a long stone’s throw) from the beach, a source of constant pleasure, but also a place with contaminated ground water, a dying, polluted lagoon and diminishing wildlife (but wondrous turtles in the backyard), with a husband who loves me (major flaws and all), and is unfailingly supportive of my creative life (what a gift!) with two cats we adore that love us back (if you count purrs and Cayce’s throwing out a paw to snag us when we try to walk away from petting him before he’s ready to call it quits), and a legion of loyal friends who even two months after Cody’s departure still remember us with cards, texts, token gifts.
Maybe the salient question is what poet, Mary Oliver, asks in “The Summer Day,” Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Suddenly, it feels urgent.
Unbidden, the first line of the St. Francis prayer jumps into my consciousness, “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.” No lofty goals there, huh? Seriously though, this question merits more consideration. Stay tuned…
Readers: In the meantime, do tell what’s important to you as you age? If you knew you were going to die soon, what would you spend your time doing? Not doing? Please share.