“Happy old age” was always an enigma. I didn’t know any “old people” who seemed happy. Bitterness, anger, and loneliness seemed to be the destiny for anyone that lived past fifty. I will admit that perhaps my vision was a bit skewed.
From the time I was four, I lived with my grandparents and my great grandmother. Vacations each summer were spent with another set of grandparents. Each of them was miserable in their own way. None of them showed any signs of a happy old age.
When I think about each of them, I remember the frowns and downward pointed eyebrows. None of them had that sparkle of joy or peace in their eyes. Their voices were dull and mean. Yes, that is the word I needed to find-mean. Perhaps all of that anger, bitterness and loneliness had poisoned their spirit to the point that their words and actions spewed meanness.
This seemed to be such a contradiction since all of them (except my grandfather) talked about loving God and hoping for the glorious day when they would see Jesus in Heaven. My grandfather was a drunk, so his meanness came straight from a bottle. Grandmother took me to church every Sunday morning and then again on Sunday evening. When I was younger, she would take me with her to her church group “circle” meetings. The old women sat in a circle and talked about a Bible verse of two for a while, and then went directly into bashing anyone not there, as well as other church folks. Time for refreshments meant time to discuss the terrible state of the world, the disappointing youth of today, and to ask the host for the recipe of the treat of the day. Of course, they chatted amongst themselves as they left about “those treats she made” and the recipe was thrown out at home.
At church I heard sermons from an amazing pastor about God and his love for us, but at home Grandmother told the story of a different God. Her God was vindictive and just about as mean as she was. God was clearly judgmental, and perfection was required for His love. I never measured to the standard my Grandmother set for God to love me. He was just another grey haired, white bearded, crotchety, mean old man in my mind. When I was in my late 30’s I left the church, and after 25 years I felt drawn to return. I attended a variety of churches and denominations looking for a place to call a church home. One Sunday, I was looking for a church and “accidentally” found a different one. It was the farthest thing from anything I would ever have considered, yet it was where I was supposed to be-for many reasons.
The congregation is an older one with some of the most beautiful grey haired, faces with wrinkles, older women you will ever meet. I come complete with tattoos and ever-changing hair styles and colors, and they have accepted me without question. Many of them have been friends for years, and they truly love and cherish each other. The ages range from 70 to well over 90. Every Sunday and often at Wednesday prayer lunch, I look forward to seeing these special women. Their faces show wrinkles and eyes are often clouded by cataracts. They may have to use a cane or walker. Yet, all I see are sparkling eyes and beautiful smiles. I listen as they willingly share stories of the church, their childhood, marriages, families, and more. Laughter often accompanies their stories. When one is sick or has to be away, you can feel the sadness from the others. These women all love God and Jesus, but they don’t have to tell you that. You can see it in the love they have for each other, their church, their lives, and the way they welcome anyone who enters the doors of the church. I can clearly see the God of love that the pastor of my youth shared with us.
I used to be afraid of growing old. I worried that I would become a bitter, angry, lonely old woman just like my mother and grandmothers. I’m not afraid any more, in fact, I look forward to watching my children, my grandchildren, and yes, even my great-grandchildren as they grow and change. I have some very special friendships that I cherish and plan to take them with me as I journey towards old age. My prayer is that I may be just as precious and joyful as the women at my church.
In 12-step recovery programs, we are taught not to think about tomorrow. Slogans like “one day at a time” or “just today” are drummed into our brain. Another one that I hate is, “if you have one foot in tomorrow and one foot in yesterday, you are pissing all over today.” That one just never made any sense to me. I understand and acknowledge the wisdom in “one day at a time” in dealing with alcohol and drugs. There were many times in my recovery that it was one hour, one minute, or one second at a time.
However, in the real world that slogan doesn’t work. If I truly lived “one day at a time”, I would get my paycheck and buy a new big screen TV or book a mountain cabin for a week, ignoring the reality that in two weeks I have to pay rent and make a car payment. I also believe that dreams of the future are a motivation to do well today.
When I decided to write about Christmas future, I had to think about what I would really like to see. So here is a brief glimpse of some future Christmases…
In a couple of years, I will have friends and family surrounding me as I prepare to graduate from the College of Charleston.
Not long after I finish my MFA, Oprah will choose my newly published best selling book as the gift to give for Christmas.
I will visit my great grandchildren who are the most beautiful and amazing children ever to be born. I will, of course, be visiting my children and grand children as well, but we all know it will be the great grands that take center stage.
The day after Christmas, I will visit the Culpeppers (Either in Charleston or within a 4 hour drive 🙂 ) and the next week I will go to Baltimore and New York to visit my brother and some other friends as I begin my book tour.
I won’t miss my mother, my best friend-JanF, my Mama Pearl, or any of the other friends/family who have passed away nearly as much as I do now. (OK, that one isn’t really going to happen.)
I will notice that as I grow older, I learn more about the gift of Jesus and the joy of celebrating Christmas. I might just become “Jesusy” as Anne Lamott says.
I spent a great deal of life dreading the future and believing that nothing good would ever happen to me. I was always waiting for the next bad thing. I have learned that the next bad thing is going to happen no matter what; it happens to everyone. It’s called life. I have also learned that the next amazing thing is going to happen as well. Sometimes, the next amazing thing comes as a result of that next bad thing that happened.
Anne Lamott said in one of her blog posts, ” We religious nuts say, ‘I no longer know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future’.” Of course, I can’t really predict the future, but I can dream. I no longer see my future thought the eyes of nightmares. So, I will continue to dream about my future Christmases celebrating the birth of the One who holds the future.
The other day my friend sent me a picture of her gas gauge with bars showing she had no miles left until empty. We laughed and talked about knowing better. This morning the gentle dinging sound as I started my car reminded me that I needed gas. I should have stopped last night but it was rainy and I was tired. I looked at my gauge and the needle was teetering close to the little line that says, “you will be sorry if you don’t fill this car up NOW.” Yes, I have run out of gas before and it is not a pleasant experience. Once again, I was running on empty.
I tend to do the same thing in other areas of life. I stay up too late when I have to get up early. I don’t eat healthy, nutritious food. I don’t exercise enough…or I just don’t exercise. I don’t play and have fun. I isolate and don’t talk about things that concern me. I spend too much time being negative and worrying. I don’t take to journal or write. I forget about quiet time to meditate and pray. Eventually my light comes on and I see the signs very clearly. I am running on empty.
It is time to fill up my tank. The car is an easy fix. I just pull into the gas station and fill it up. Of course, with gas prices these days, it isn’t as easy as it used to be. Filling up my personal tank can be a challenge, too. I am working part time and going to college almost full time. Writing papers, studying, and preparing for class all take a lot of time. I have to pay bills and do time consuming things like laundry and cleaning. There are also all the day to day activities that get in the way.
I am exactly like my car. I have to fill my tank. I can wait until I am almost on empty and push to see how much farther I can go before I breakdown on the side of the road or I can do the smart thing and refill at any time along the way. I imagine I am still going to push it from time to time, but I am going to try to do better. I still have a roadside assistance plan for my car…. just in case.
The voice on the other end of the phone told me something was wrong. It wasn’t the words but the sound of desperation. It took only moments before the tears came. “I feel like such a failure,” she said. I recently heard those same words from someone else. They were spoken with the same sadness and fear I heard in her that day.
I empathized with both of them. I have said those words myself and felt the pain surrounding them. Failure-it is such a daunting word. The term “FAIL” or “EPIC FAIL” has become very popular. It is usually not spoken, but yelled when someone does something questionable. We rarely associate failure with simply making a mistake or not succeeding at a task. It seems much bigger.
Early in the fall of this year, I was beginning to have those old demons emerge. I was beginning to feel like a failure. I was out of work, getting divorced for the third time, and looking at the few material possessions I owned. At 61, I should certainly be sitting on my front porch watching the sunset with my husband of 40 years, planning an exciting travel filled retirement, and having an investment portfolio to sustain my lifestyle for the next 30 or so years.
The truth is that I have failed at many things in life. What I have come to understand is that while missing my goal or making a mistake may mean I failed, it does not make me a failure. Someone very wise told me the only thing that would make me a failure was if I gave up without trying.
I would never consider Oprah a failure, yet she was fired from her first job and told she would never make it in TV. Walt Disney was told his mouse idea was a failure. I would dare say that today we would yell, “EPIC FAIL” to the person who said that. J.K. Rowlings was certainly considered a failure as a divorced, single mother, want to be writer on welfare. Yet, she continued to write. Steven King’s manuscript for “Carrie” was rejected 30 times before it became a success. There are many examples of people who failed at something and we would never dream of labeling them failures.
I am convinced that as long I am alive on this earth, I will continue to fail. I will also succeed in countless endeavors. Neither success nor failure should define me. They are not who I am. I am many things but I am not now nor will I ever be a failure. I only hope my friends come to believe that as well.
I walked along the uneven brick sidewalk with the determination of someone who knew exactly where she was going. Truth is I was watching my steps to be sure I didn’t trip while trying to sneak quick glances at the building’s names. I was caught up in the sea of students who reminded me of my teenage grandson and his friend. Huge book bags hung from the backs or shoulders of almost every student. Some walked briskly while others rode skateboards or bikes. Most walked alone, however some were in groups of two of three.
I spotted the name of the building where I would take my first class. It had taken a bit longer than I planned but I arrived, found my room and took a seat in the front row. All of the early arrivals had taken the favored seats along the wall of the back of the room near the window. I felt every eye in the classroom zero in on the older woman invading their classroom. After all, college is when you experience life without your parent’s watchful eye. It is much like allowing a spy into the enemy camp.
I am a non traditional student. Most friends would confirm that I a non traditional person. Physically, I am 61 years old but I don’t feel that old, I don’t act that old, and many say I don’t look that old. I love my computer, laptop, IPad, IPhone, and IPod touch. I text more than I talk on the phone. I am up to date on contemporary issues, music, and movies. Most of my friends are considerably younger than I am. I am physically active and although I am bit slower at times, I can keep up with most of them. I am not trying to ignore the reality of my age, but I choose not to be defined by it.
After only two days of classes I am acutely aware that I have been out of school for a very long time while my fellow classmates are fresh from high school or technical colleges. My classroom learning was over 40 years ago. If you’ve ever watched the show, “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader”, you will see adults put to shame by fifth grade students answering basic school questions. My analytical and critical thinking skills are not quite as sharp as my classmates. Class notes are a long forgotten skill. My test taking ability will be called into service next week. It all means I may have to work harder to keep up.
Yet, I am excited to begin this journey. I love being in the classrooms. My brain is like a sponge on steroids trying to absorb every moment of this experience. I had all but given up hope that this dream would ever become reality. When my car broke down the day after my first classes, I will admit that I was discouraged. However, after $1000 in repairs my car is back in service and I was back in class today. Syllabuses (or syllabi), notebooks, folders, tests, homework, research, and papers are the things that fill my life today. All I need now is “*faith, and trust, and pixie dust.” (* Quote by J.M. Barrie in Peter Pan)
Middle Age–the period of life between youth and old age, usually considered to occur approximately between the ages of 45 and 65. http://www.merriam-webster.com
I decided to see what the dictionary described as middle age. Looks like I may be leaving the land of middle age soon. I started thinking about the last twenty years. It has been a very remarkable time in my life. But, the last 10 years have been the time of overwhelming change and growth.
I have shared some of my life in other blogs. I describe my life as a cross between a Lifetime Movie Miniseries and Jerry Springer show. I lived a life filled with chaos, confusion, self-doubt, and fear. It seems my life has been like a marathon but I froze at the opening whistle. I have tried to catch up to the pack for most of my life. At 50, it seems I caught up with the runners at the back of the pack.
I moved back to my hometown after leaving an abusive marriage a short time before I turned 50. I left with nothing but my car and some personal items. I truly had to start over. I had to recreate myself because I had lost so much of me.
More than anything I wanted to do something that allowed me to give back to others. People had given so much encouragement, support, and love to me and I wanted to find a way to pass that on.
I volunteered at a local Hotline before moving back home. I fell in love with the work. The staff told me I had a natural gift for compassion and empathy with callers. I dreamed of working for a place like this but knew I didn’t have the skills or education. Once back home I began looking for job. After each interview, my hopes sank a little more. These were not the jobs I wanted.
I opened the paper one morning and there it was. It was my dream job and it was in the classified section of the paper that morning–Volunteer Coordinator” for Hotline needed. I had searched for a job for more than two months. I applied for every job that fit my skill set knowing it wasn’t what I wanted to do.
I read the job description again. The requirements included office skills, experience with volunteers, good communication skills, organizational skills and bachelor’s degree in human services field. I had it all, all except the bachelor’s degree. I didn’t have a degree in anything. I only attended college for one semester before getting married. It was one of my biggest regrets. Friends would encourage me to apply for any job if I thought I was qualified, even without the degree. I told them it was a waste of time. Once the prospective employer saw the lack of education, they would toss my resume in the pile to receive the “thanks but no thanks” letter.
I decided to apply and after three interviews, the director called to offer me the position. I hung up the phone still in shock. Tears fell as I realized my dream come true. I have been with my agency now for over ten years. I am transitioning into another new position (this will be my fourth) as we continue to grow. As the agency writes new job descriptions, the words “Degree Required” are changed to “Degree Preferred.”
According to the definition, I will be leaving middle age soon. Please don’t tell my mind or my body. They don’t seem to realize it yet. I still have too much to do. My other passion is writing. Last year I took part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and plan to do it again next month. I discovered that writing 50,000 words in a month isn’t as easy as it seems. I created a blog a couple of years ago and in January, I started sharing it with others. I am also in the process of writing a memoir type of book and a fiction book as well.
I just turned 60 years old. Maybe this means my “Second Act” will be ending soon. I will tell you that I am excited about the next act. My favorite author Anne Lamott says, “Age has given me the gift of me, it just gave me what I was always longing for, which was to get to be the woman I’ve already dreamt of being.” Anyone want to start a website for “The Next Act?”