Living Until the Curtain Falls

stage-1248769_640

Newly retired and eager to prove that my life was still going to be useful and exciting, several years ago I set up my blog and named it “The Golden Years Revisited.” From the name it was obvious to me that I believed most of the myths about retirement and growing older.  In a youth-obsessed society with an evangelical belief in the powers of medicine and technology to delay or erase the natural progression of life, the images surrounding aging and being  “old” are pretty negative.  The most damaging message is that the right attitude (i.e., thinking young and following the example of those few exceptional seniors who never seem to get old) will delay aging, but once the battle is lost, you are irrelevant and useless, often even to people who love you, but definitely to society as a whole.

As an avid reader, I frequent our town library on a regular basis, and suffer anxiety whenever my unread book stack is down to one.  I always browse through the new acquisition section that is divided between fiction and non-fiction.  For most of my life, my choices were firmly in the fiction (escape) section.  Good escape fiction, of course, and hopefully thoughtful and pertinent to my own life, but fiction nonetheless.  I worked full time, was deeply immersed in the intense world of raising children and then helping them at a distance through the early years of adulthood.  I survived breast cancer and the deaths of both my parents.  I had all the non-fiction that I could handle.

Then I finally arrived at that golden shore of retirement.  I could read as much good fiction as I got my hands on and think of myself first in most situations.  I could be that woman who wears purple with a red hat and doesn’t care what people think.  Not that I was unaware of the realities of aging, but I come from a long line of strong and healthy women and I was sure it would be smooth sailing.  Eventually, of course, I would arrive in that amorphous stage of life when I would actually be OLD.  And that would be it, so to speak, even if I was still physically alive.

Something mysterious happened to my reading preferences.  I gravitated toward the non-fiction section.  I became obsessed with biographical and autobiographical stories.  I read books on politics that I would previously have dropped like a hot potato. I wanted more than ever to understand the world I live in and specifically the roots and consequences of the choices we make as individuals and a society.  Naturally the subject of aging was of paramount interest.  I know that I will never be president or live a fascinating life that someone will want to read about long after I am gone.  But I would get (and have finally gotten, I guess) to that place called Old.

I previously read “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande and am currently reading “Elderhood” by Louise Aronson.  They are both physicians who question the wisdom and approach of the medical establishment when working with older people and confronting death (at any age).  “Elderhood,” in particular has given me a veritable banquet of things to consider and ways to formulate my choices related to the medical establishment in the years to come.

silhouettes-812107_640

In September this year I will reach 75 years of age.  I do not want to buy into the myth that as long as I eat right, exercise, and do mental puzzles (though they are important), dye my hair or start wearing makeup to cover the wrinkles (not so important), I won’t actually die someday.  I want to celebrate this time in my life, not by trying to be one of those exceptional older people who run marathons (let’s face it, I never liked to run, not even when I was 20) but by finally learning to love myself and the place where each day takes me – closer to the end, yes, but anticipating one heck of a curtain call!

 

©Martha Hurwitz, 1/6/20

Temporal

Signs and Portents

dark-2024127_640

Shortly after my mother died, I was taking a walk in the early evening around the fields in back of my home.  I am fortunate to live in a beautiful location, with expansive Eastern views and uninterrupted skies.  On this particular night it was clear, the moon was in its first quarter and the light it shed did not obscure the Milky Way, spread like a ribbon across the sky.

I was sad and grieving–of course I was.  Despite the fact that my mother had lived 92 years and was, in the end, at peace with dying.  She suffered no pain or final illness.  There was nothing to put on her death certificate other than “old age.”  She had chosen several weeks before to stop eating.  It was her time.  She was ready.  We got to say our goodbyes and hold her hand.  That was surely her greatest gift to us–her quiet ability to know when it was time.  She had often said she did not want to give up driving, but when her reflexes and sight began to dwindle, she put the keys down and did not drive again.  She had said many times she hoped she would not have to go into a nursing home.  After several months of increasing illness and inability to live alone, it became inevitable.  There was never a word of recrimination, a hint of disappointment with her children who had made that decision for her.  She looked around, saw others who were worse off than she, graced them with her smile and kind words.  She was grateful for any visit, phone call, a drive in the countryside.

The weeks since her death had been consumed with the practical things that are necessary, the phone calls, the service at home, the decisions about her possessions.  I had written a eulogy, planned a memorial service with my brothers, tried to provide comfort to my family.  But I did not know how to exist in this world now empty of her physical presence.

Walking in that calm nighttime, digging into the depths of my shaky spiritual core, I admitted that even though I knew in some vague way she would always be with me, I surely could use some kind of sign.  Just at that moment, a shooting star flew across the sky. I have looked up into this night sky for 30 years and have seen numerous shooting stars. But on many nights I would stand outside in the dark, neck muscles aching in their support of my tilted head, hoping to be looking in the right direction at the right time, without any luck. On this particular night, I was not looking for them at all.

So was that a sign?  Or a coincidence?  Or just the random operation of the unfathomable universe?  The part of me that is rational and scientific says it was just the random operation of the universe and a coincidence that I was facing in the right direction at the right time.  But the part of me that has roots in the ancient ties to the natural world says something different.  It says that there are signs that we cannot read and places beyond our ability to imagine.  That there are many things so far beyond our comprehension that we can only gasp in wonder and acknowledge them with joy.

 

©Martha Hurwitz, 9/27/17
Inspired by Daily Prompt:  coincidence

My Life in Water

horizon-1836480_640

I began immersed in fluid, floating freely, encased in the universe of beginning.  Nothing was required of me there, no consciousness, no choice, no understanding.  Slowly my universe contracted and I grew beyond its borders.  Without understanding, I knew narrowness was coming and I would be thrust into a cold, bright dryness, a perilous hero’s journey to a land I did not know.

summer-2209393_640.jpg

At 10, I rejoiced in water.  I ran into the waves, waded into deep streams, floated in muddy ponds with no fear of leeches or rusty metal. Perhaps I still remembered the sensation of endless waters, the universe of beginnings, the promise of lands yet to be seen.

At 20, I began to underestimate the depth of the streams. I was caught in undertow, slammed into the sand.  I struggled against the current, swimming furiously toward goals that were not mine.

trunk-918412_640.jpg

At 30 I gave up struggling and floated, driftwood in someone else’s sea, waiting and hoping the waves would drop me on the shore.  I prayed for an anchor, a purpose, a sign that I had reached that land I did not know.

swans-408454_640

At 40 there were children.  I had crossed into a land I did not know, but not the land I had been searching for.  I learned to swim furiously again, but now I needed to save others and still did not know how to save myself.

At 60 I watched my children drift away in their own ships, and prayed that the seas would be calm and the winds always at their backs.

fall-colors-984668_640

At 70 my life is again encased in the fluid universe of beginning.  But now there is consciousness, choice, and understanding.  Slowly my universe is contracting and I am growing beyond its borders.  The stream is shallow, flowing gently and singing promises of peace.  I know that narrowness is coming again and I will end my hero’s journey in a land that I will finally know.