Change Creates Disturbance

 

I am 77 years old, and I’m still relishing my old age. Perhaps “still” isn’t quite correct; I wasn’t relishing it until a few months ago, just shortly before reaching that august age. Okay, I’ve been relishing it for about 5 months. But it’s real. Real enough that I’m not giving it up. My ageism was a killer, and I’m ready to live longer – and better – than I thought I was. Better than I thought I could. Something had to change.

 

“Change creates disturbance” was one of my husband’s favorite sayings. “It can be good or it can be bad,” he would add. He was wise. He had lived it time and again, just as we all do, and knew the truth of it. Whether the change has been given to us or brought about by our own choices, we have to dive in to the new whether we’re ready for it or not. Life moves on. We move with it one way or another. It can be easy; it can be monumentally hard.

 

This change that needed to happen was a long-delayed attempt to finish the final sprint in a marathon called Martha’s Blog. I had dragged my feet long enough.

 

Sitting down to write that Very First Blog To Be Put Out There Over The Internet was pretty much like every other significant change that I’d lived into. It felt alternately terrifying – exciting – daring – foolish – hopeful – doubtful –  challenging – writer blocking – inevitable. I was going to start my own blog, and writing my first piece was going to be a gut-wrenching risk. It was like a lot of other risks I’d taken in the past, yet driven by the new me that was emerging after a long, hard journey through grief after the death of my husband.

 

He had been my biggest cheerleader. He believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. He pushed me to use my gifts even when I resisted because I felt I wasn’t good enough. This would be my first venture without a cheerleader by my side. I had to be my own confidence. My own trust. That was the monumentally hard part.

 

I was still wavering and avoiding actually sitting down to write. But I came across this word of wisdom: “You’ll never know until you try.” Uffda! (Minor point: I’m of Norwegian ancestry mostly and live in Minnesota. This is how we talk…) I made a large, albeit unartistic sign and hung it across the room from where I sit. I couldn’t avoid it.

 

Smart move. Though uninspiring in its artistry, its words finally sank in. You’ll never know until you try. I had to know. I wrote the blog.

 

“Old Age Reconsidered” didn’t end up on my own WordPress site that I’d tried in vain to set up, though. (We all know about best-laid plans, right?) It landed on Oxygen Buzz, the most fun, comprehensive, informative, charmingly introspective website about aging well that I have found! I had landed in the mind of its co-creator, Bill Apablasa, when I emailed him a couple of times about his brilliant articles. He saw a writer. A writer?! What? What? When he invited me to be their first guest blogger, I suddenly knew that the time had come. I could no longer say I wasn’t “good enough.” I sent that blog – the second monumentally hard part. I had to know.

 

It was published September 13, 2018. And my life has been changed forever.

 

I had come so close to calling the whole writing thing off when WordPress was becoming a tech hill too steep to climb. But the universe – or fate – or serendipity – or chance – or God – had other plans that were already moving behind the scenes.

 

Timing really is everything. Change shows up when it’s going to show up and sometimes a myriad of little miracles all have to align perfectly for it to appear. And it always disrupts the flow.

 

We know what it’s like to walk into a change that shines the bright light of hope and eager expectation. Especially when we’ve been waiting for it for a long time. We deserve this. Maybe we hold our breath at first, and the beginning of the new thing is delicious. Nothing stands in our way now. Life is good.

 

But we also know that when we stand at the foot of a change that crashes hope and promises only heartsickness, we can find ourselves terrified. And life hovers so strangely then. Some of them can turn out to be the very things that show us the way to the deepest, most profound, even miraculous new places that we’d never known existed. In time, even joy. But in the beginning, and perhaps for a very long time, they are soul-crushing.

 

I’m well into my 70’s now. I have known so many changes of both kinds that I can see the patterns: fractures and mendings; dead ends and limitless possibilities; sleeplessness and the salvific long, deep sleeps; irretrievable losses and immeasurable gains.

 

There are patterns to our lives. Some are so beautiful that they save us from despair. Some, so awful that we thought we would never survive them. But most of us did – and most of us do. And that is miracle every time. 

 

In looking back, I realize that most changes have turned out to be quite different from what I had expected them to be. The best have taught me a new patience and a new reality. Life is good. Life is terrible. Change creates disturbance. It can be good or it can be bad. We adjust and we make our way through in our own way. And sometimes we are amazed at what has shown up on the new horizon that was just over the hill.

 

We have found out that we are stronger than we thought we could ever be. We have discovered that most of the fears that kept us from moving ahead were bogus, cheap and prone to collapsing.

 

Every change changes us, and by a grace that I do not always understand, I find a depth to my living now that outweighs even the wondrous heights that I so eagerly looked for and cherished for so long.

 

When I look back, at age 77, I can literally find myself groaning or laughing at the “me” that I was and cheering for the “me” that is showing up now. It’s so very refreshing. Change creates disturbance. Yes, yes it does. It’s how I got here, and I’m very okay with that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old Age Reconsidered

(Originally published as a guest blog at www.oxygenbuzz.com, September 13, 2018)

I am relishing my old age. Truly. I’m not exaggerating. I am not just tolerating it; I am not just enjoying it, I am savoring it. Delighting in it. Reveling in it. Luxuriating in it. I am quietly but gleefully surprised by the gifts that keep appearing in my elderhood. Gifts like perspective. And calm. And a deeper gratitude. And letting go. And discovering that some of the most meaningful things that I’ve learned have come through suffering.

I didn’t even consider myself “old” until I faced turning 70. That’s when I first allowed the subject to show its face, even though at age 65 I had reluctantly started toying with the idea. I have had a remarkable denial system…I’m still working on that.

On my 70th birthday, I wrote a long and serious diatribe about the dreadful appearance of That Which I Could No Longer Deny. It began, “I hate being 70!” That really covered it, but my dismay and my angst about becoming “old” demanded much more than four salty words. I filled several pages with my recriminations and my growing awareness of the impossibility of stemming the tide and the gross unfairness of it all.

Even as I slowly made some uneasy peace with my own aging over the next few years, I still lived in tension with the realities of growing older and older…and older. I was a billboard for the worst prejudices of ageism. I worried about becoming incapacitated, dependent and invisible. I had little good to say about getting older…and older.

Then, some months after I turned 76, I began realizing that I was falling in love with life in a whole new way. It only took me ten lines, at 76, to speak of changes that had mysteriously evolved without my even noticing them. Changes that I had longed for but found impossible to manufacture of my own accord. Perhaps it was the longing itself that paved the way. Perhaps.

I cannot deny, though, the discovery and the power of three people, three gurus who I came to think of as “my” people who were speaking out about ageism: first, a TED talk by Ashton Applewhite; then a TED talk by Dr. Bill Thomas; and last and definitely not least, a link to a delightful website called Oxygen Buzz and Bill Apablasa. I was ripe for the picking! And I was ready!

After a lifetime of working hard to live a good life, gaining some wisdom in both my successes and failures, I found that I hadn’t really had to do much conscious, intentional work at all in this relatively short span of six years. With age came changes that I had not anticipated. They just – appeared, surprising me with their quiet and mysterious arrival.

So it was that the changes that surprised me, that subtly arrived over time, became gifts that I hadn’t expected; gifts that I hadn’t found by searching for them. Delight had quietly found its way into my life over six struggling, questioning, wondering, longing years. And it has been delicious.

Now, in this newly refurbished life, having reached 77, I relish the deep, quiet calm of my spirit. It’s a calm that I cannot manufacture but which is simply there. It is the foundation of most days (perfection eludes me…), unlike those days which used to be too full of angst and insecurity and indecision. This amazing calm is not just deep; it is deeply grounded, rooted firmly in the soil of experience and reality and my longing for a greater peace of mind.

I relish the enjoyment of sharing the long histories that I have with family and friends. I am fed by our telling the stories of our lives together, laughing and sighing and smiling and sometimes weeping over every “Remember when?” Our stories, so long a part of who we all are, have become balm for the soul. And the stories tell me who I have been, the good of who we have been, and the oh-not-so-good places that sometimes starved our souls. Regret and forgiveness have become comfortable companions.

I relish the discovery, hard-won, that I could survive the death in 2013 of my beloved husband, who was my soul-mate and best friend. I now know that even suffering, especially suffering, remakes us if we grasp its power to refine and heal us. So few things frighten me now. I have been to the depths and survived. I will likely survive the next loss that is going to appear. I am more resilient now, softer around the edges. I know from experience that grace lives in the midst of suffering and loss. And as favorite writer Anne Lamott says, “Grace always bats last…it just does.”

I relish the deepening gratitude that has, I suppose, been with me always in some ways. Yet it was so often pushed to one side when life disappointed me and I failed myself and others. With the coming of a few physical limitations, I have had to make a choice: grouse about my body (or sometimes my mind..) or smile (even laugh!) at how good life has been and how good it can still be.

And I relish the new hunger that I have found for discovering who I am yet to become. My purpose on this earth is far from done. What quietly profound surprises await my discovery? Ah, the possibilities! “The teacher comes when the student is ready,” the saying goes. I’m ready.

I recently learned that the 70’s are the second happiest decade of life. And that the 80’s (believe it, friends…!) are the first!! So I’m going to relish as much in these years as possible, because they’re the last years that I’m going to have and I want them to be smashing!