This summer I turned a new page in my imagined book of life. Perhaps it’s even a new chapter. I’ve done the math so many ways: I’m entering the last quarter of my life (if I live to a hundred). Or, more realistically it’s the last one-sixth of life coming up (if I top out at ninety). In other words, I turned 75.
It took me a while to come out because, for the first time in my life, I didn’t feel so proud of my age. Perhaps all the ageist humor about my generation has taken root in my head. Or maybe it’s the Post-it notes I unintentionally slap on to “people of that age,” a lifetime habit. Yesterday when I was at the hospital for a routine procedure, a nurse looked at my chart and asked if they got my age right and gave me a Girlfriend Thumbs-up.
For a long time now people have seemed sincerely surprised when I reveal my age, having assumed that I’m still in my youthful sixties. Or at least that’s what they say. So maybe I’m not the only one with the Post-It notes.
I spent most of the early summer in a Life Review Project. What a luxury to be able to take slow-down time to question childhood assumptions and discover lessons that life just keeps teaching me! The more I look inside, the more I see. I still have a host of other assumptions and beliefs about EVERYTHING having to do with aging. The truth is I’m fortunate to be reasonably healthy. As far as I know, no wicked cells are lurking in my body planning a coup. And, although my memory for details is sometimes hazy, it feels like something stronger has taken hold. Perhaps it’s wisdom, grounded in the losses of these years which serve as continual reminders of life’s impermanence.
Besides, it’s very clear to me that my Eternal Self has no age whatsoever. She also doesn’t even have a name, she reminds me, usually with a wink.
A T-shirt caught my eye while I was on a recent ramble. Reality is a Demanding Lover, it said. The phrase resonates like a Zen koan. I remember all the times I’ve bet against Reality and lost, discovering in the process what it takes to truly cooperate with Life. The longer I think, the more I notice myself writing another, equal, message, perhaps for the back of the T-shirt: Reality is a Generous Lover.
And I know both are true. Life has sometimes slapped me with demands that I never would have believed that that I would be able to meet. And then it has generously showed me that there is more than enough support to meet it all. The more often I surrender to reality, the easier life goes. And so I surrender once more. When all is said and done, my initiation to the last one-sixth of my life has left me with more clarity. I’m officially committing to spend the rest of my life learning to love life better, whether reality is demanding or generous. I’m down for all of it.
May your passages be as gentle.
Last night a drawing caught my fancy.
500 years old,
A cookie cutter outline of a human form
Impaled by knives,
by swords, by arrows
pierced ten, twenty times, more,
soon to become an index for the very
That’s what I feel like today,
I see this body,
riddled as it is
by steps and missteps
for a time
I think of this
how it expands
again, again, again after each break.
I looked down to see
a landscape carved by life.
I call all of this Me.
I take Me out to a concert in the park.
How’s your summer going?
The standard greeting rushes out
when I see my
Then, remembering his body’s battle with cancer,
I tender the next question
How are you feeling?
Okay, he answers,
on the weeks I don’t have chemo,
That’s half the time,
which is pretty good.
He tells me of trips to see his sons,
stare at the stars, listen to music
savor the company of friends
How do you keep going? I ask,
suddenly aware of my complaints
of creakiness and fatigue.
He gently holds my eye.
I love life, he says simply.
And that answer catches the breath
and still rings bright and true
as summer breeze turns to fall.
— SgB 2023