My friend Dorothy Sander responded to “I Don’t Want to Live Forever”. I felt empowered. Dorothy said this.
How very sad that advancing years seems to spawn despair and a sense of hopelessness and fear. About ten years ago, in my early 50’s I watched my parents journey through their last days, one dying at 89, the other at 97 and the thing that struck me then was exactly that. They couldn’t figure out how to live without “doing” something. I vowed then, that I would try to figure out a better way to die so that I don’t have to die in despair.
I have been wrestling with my own version of this issue and at sixty two I now see things very differently. I have never felt more at peace with life than I do now, and while the numbers say otherwise I feel like my life is just beginning. I’ve begun to think of the first half of life as “boot camp” for the good stuff. What we are missing in our western culture and perspective is the big picture. Is life really about “doing”? Is it about thinking, planning, executing?
For me, I now see it as a process of being and becoming, of transformation and personal and spiritual growth which is more of an inward journey than an outward one. Sure, we will live in the world, enjoying all that it has to offer until we can no longer do so, but perhaps what we are meant to do in our last years, no matter how long they last, is to do exactly what people like Erikson, Kubler-Ross, Dr. Estes and others have been saying for years, go inward. Aging is a transformative process that, when we choose to embrace, rather than fear, deny or avoid it, we are gifted with the ability to offer wisdom and perspective to a world that has grown mad with doing.
No one looks forward to living in pain and losing one’s faculties, but it’s just another change that we can choose to embrace or fear. I want to live in this place of transformative aging until I die and I want to resist falling into the trap of fear or despair to the best of my ability. If it is 70 years or 170, I don’t think I will have learned or experienced everything there is to learn or experience and I will be sorry to see this journey end, but I plan to leap, to the best of my ability, into the next world, whatever it is.
We might need courage in the second half to allow ourselves to ratchet down a bit, sit quietly and think, and that may be one measure of productivity. In this TedX video, geriatrician Dr. Bill Thomas talks about how we judge older people according to how closely they imitate the physicality of youth. And in this post, I talk about how a group of retired/retiring psychologists and therapists, all female, all feminists, all with the ability to think deeply, appear stuck on the productivity standard.
As my Dad used to tell me, “Use your thinker.”