Yikes! Launch Day has arrived! Am still a total novice at WordPress, but decided to let my rocket take off, even if in very primitive shape & stage.
Am very much partnering in this endeavor – as I do in all my work with older friends – with all the awesome oldsters elders ancients whose paths I’ve been blessed to cross. First & foremost, my mother, Katharine Reynolds Lockhart.
Friends & pleasant acquaintances would often say to me, “Well, I’d have my mother live with me, too, if we got along as well as the two of you.”
The reality is that we did NOT mesh well. Among our many challenges, was our similar dissimilar natures: we were ALIKE in very visible ways – love of family & friends, love of church school community, love of a good party & always ready for a celebration, BUT when it came to things that lead to peace in the home – how we defined family, what we expected from ourselves & others, how we interpreted the similar terms we used – we were poles apart. It was difficult, challenging & I came darn close once to a breakdown, BUT WE MADE IT WORK.
My deep personal belief about families – we are created to be tribal. Sadly, it feels like everything in our current culture works against that, leaves us separated, not receiving the support we are meant to be giving & getting across the ages. It’s not meant to be easy – it’s meant to draw all of us closer to wisdom.
What a forever blessing that John & I were able to pair up to give both of our mothers the sort of aging upward that suited them best. My O Best Beloved & I were as well-suited for providing care & support to our long-widowed mothers as we are for doing the same with each other. FYI ~ you can’t plan for that sort of connection, like there is some secret sauce that will cook up the sort of connect that made it possible to pamper the Moms; we both acknowledge it’s in Greater Hands than ours. (My not-organized-religion hubster blew my socks off when he told me, “You didn’t plan this & I didn’t plan this, but SOMEONE planned it!!”) Praise be, we knew at the time it was a blessing, never ever took it for granted, never forgot to say & offer up our thanks.
Since Mom is my most active, albeit in Other Realms, partner, am sharing this launch post with her.
Background: Mom became active on the internet in the late 1990s. She started because there was a lively discussion taking place in our church organization, with Mom agreeing with points held by very different camps. Born at the very tag end of the Gilded Age, she was pretty daunted by computers but she really really really wanted to be part of the to & fro. So, since the computer studio was right next door to her bedroom, Mom would haul a chair into the room, sit next to me & dictate as I transcribed. As she would say, “It war a pleasure!” to help. Mom was open to accessing the wonders of the internet because she’d gone through major MEGA changes since 11/97 & going online; connecting with scores of women & men of all ages who thought she was absolutely the cat’s pajamas, took her stunning evolution zooming into the stratosphere!
The following is an article Mom wrote in 2000 – at 90! – for an alumni journal. It cobbles together a bunch of e-mails she wrote to a devoted & ever-growing dist list (her version of blogging, which was still basically unknown – she would have taken to it like a duck to water). Enjoy!
THE VELVETEEN GRAMMIE
Margery Williams’ classic story, The Velveteen Rabbit+, includes an exchange between two nursery toys, the Skin Horse and the Rabbit, who has asked the horse, “What is REAL?” The Rabbit wants to know if it happens all at once, like being wound up, or bit by bit.
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your fur has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But those things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
I relate to that passage. I turned 90 in May. As the years tick by and my fixtures and fittings become unglued and the “fur” is loved off, a stronger sense of being Real has moved forward.
It’s said that timing is everything. The issue of aging is no different. From the mid-1960s to recently, the culture in the USA did not give much value to older people. The times today are a’changing as the generation of revolutionaries who declared “Don’t trust anyone over 30!” now find themselves eligible for AARP* membership. I have found that the voice of wisdom is increasingly sought out by a generation that has no intention of becoming invisible or going softly into that goodnight.
When I was a young whippersnapper of 50 and 60, I did not think much about what life would be like if I lived to be a ripe old age. If I had, it would have fallen short of the mark, nowhere near what my experience has been, especially as I tripped the “old”ometer into my nineties.
A favorite saying of mine for many moons is “Old age ain’t for sissies.” Actually, managing to get to 90 relatively sound of heart, mind and body (or any one or more of those three) indicates some grit. As I inch closer toward triple digits, being old has gotten a lot easier. Somewhere around my late 80s, I began to see the humor and humanity more in things, to take upsets less personally and put them more easily into perspective.
Looking back, the toughest years were when my energies were beginning to flag and my body started slowing down. The proprium – sense of self – feels threatened as it becomes clear that an individual is far more than just the sum of physical parts. To get to the light, we have to work through the darkness. Moving out of that hanging-on state to one of accepting that the body is a temporary shelter designed to house our eternal soul could be compared to moving out of darkness and confusion toward lightness and the light. Ideally, the concepts of physical being, of time and relationships, are liberated as we get older and older.
My own awareness shifted when I suffered a small stroke late last September.
That small stroke speeded up the process. My mind feels strong, my spirit feels strong. As my body continues to head south, it no longer has the energy to kick up a fuss about being temporary or to even try to fake being permanent. My feet drag somewhat and I move a lot more slowly than I did, but most days my spirit soars, making itself felt more and more.
Just as little children look at their parents as really old, not-so-young people can see their own parents as shutting down as we age, gong into some sort of benign hibernation It is true that nature brings us, willingly or not, into more meditative states and slower tempos. Am I bored to tears sitting in the big chair in the living room or in my soothing rocking chair? No, it is surprisingly rewarding. The problem is that young kids – looking through the eyes of a still preening self – feel sad and think, “How dull her life must be.” Too many Ancient and near-Ancient Ones fall for that line. Truth be told, growth keeps right on going, ideally right out of the ceilings of our cramped opinion. This old biddy believes that the Lord intends us to live fully – whatever our physical or mental condition – right up to the moment we traipse across the threshold of our spiritual home.
For whatever reason, growing feeble, infirm and even forgetful is part of the Lord’s grand scheme. As I edge closer toward triple digits, it is easier to let go of timebound prejudices and expectations. Many women of my generation anchored our identities on others,. those we took care of and nourished. Personally, I balked at sparing time or energy to think and act for myself. Luckily, I had taken some proactive strides toward becoming more aware well before the stroke.
Today. my body constantly clues me in that it is merely temporary. It is breaking down. That is in the order of things, however rotten it is to experience. I take two strong pain pills a day and I have excellent and open doctors. I live in a supportive household with two “youngsters” who love me. My daughter badgered and brow beat me to think for myself rather than constantly trying to mirror back what I thought she or others wanted me to say or do. She was the burr under my saddle for change, but the catalyst was my son-in-law, who is remarkably gifted in the ways of healthy communication.
My online “family” brings unexpected and incalculable blessings, fulfilling in this life the promise that “with thought brings presence,” all at the click of a mouse.
It is not all “beer and skittles” – there are rough patches. The changes that come with old age are scary, especially changes in life roles. I have not enjoyed the hands-on role of wife for over 26 years. At ninety, I cannot even manage the role I played as a parent. The resources just are not there. I cannot provide massive emotional or even minor financial support. I cannot wash a floor or do the grocery shopping or even dust my own room. (I can still shell hard boiled eggs and clean mushrooms!) Changing roles and changing identities can be rough, especially on children, no matter how old they are. Imagine the upset at finding that good old Mom is not what she used to be. That discovery could make even an adult feel like a kid lost at the department store.
Whoever is ME is changing so fast it is hard to keep up at times. It feels like more is bubbling up to the surface than ever before – well, since I fell in love, married and became a mom for the first time. As I write this in July, we are even thinking about putting together my very own web site, which seems … well, I do not know what it seems, but it does. Talk about “the times today are a’changing” ~ I would not have dreamt that I would set foot anywhere near a meeting of people considering the role of women within the General Church, but there I was on July 8, feeling right at home, sitting front and center, and enjoying it immensely.
Of course, there is the fear of dependency. In January, I was diagnosed with acute degenerative arthritis of the right shoulder. Nothing can be done to alleviate the condition. It will get progressively worse and worse. Luckily, aside from the pain, the only effect at the moment is that I cannot get out of bed without a helping hand. Still, instead of being a custodial parent, I am the one needing care. That took me down a peg at first, but dependency has turned out to have unique blessings. A passage from the book Still Here ++ expresses my experience over the past year – “When there is true surrender and service between people, the roles of helper and helped, and the boundaries between those in power and those who are powerless, begin to dissolve.” That has been my experience with my daughter and son-in-law and with, it seems, most of the other people in my life – the old limiting boundaries have begun to dissolve.
Lots of things I loved to do are just memories. Instead of gearing up into depression over what is no longer, I find it simpler to shift perspective. Picture going to a favorite restaurant and ordering a favorite dish, only to told it is no longer on the menu. There are two choices – get in a funk over what is not availabIe or grab the opportunity to check over the menu for something new. My personal menu of possibilities seems like one of the oversized diner menus. There are many things that my physical condition keep me from doing, but there are a lot of new experiences just waiting to be given a whirl. On the physical level, life stinks. On almost every other level – emotional, mental, spiritual – the world is my oyster and every month has an R!
A friend urged me to write about old age and make all the younger folks envious of us Ancients. Growing old, even some of the sadder aspects of it, is part of the Lord’s grand scheme. Let go of time-bound prejudices and fears of growing older. Marianne Williamson says that to get to the light, a person has to work through the darkness. In middle and early old age, life can seem dark and scary as we move out of the familiar into the unknown. Work through it toward the light.
A key lesson learned over the past few years is that even unhappy events can bring unexpected opportunites. Going back to Margery Williams book, if the Boy had not gotten sick, if the beloved but germ-infested Rabbit was not doomed to be burned, if he had not been able to wriggle a bit to get out the sack, if great sadness had not caused a real tear to trickle down his shabby velvet nose, the Rabbit would not have come at that time into the fullness of being REAL.
You could say my eyes come close to dropping off (cataract surgery is scheduled this fall) and my physical appearance is certainly getting shabbier. Take heart! This Velveteen Grammie holds the happy hope of one day being reunited with her O! Best Beloved and – together – seeing the REAL light.
+ The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams 1922
++ Still Here, Ram Dass 2000
* American Association of Retired Persons (open to people over 50 years old)