Transitioning from 2022 to 2023

I feel off balance at the beginning of this new year. Maybe I was assuming that the beginning of a new year would result in the obliteration of the old year and a fresh start without any garbage from the past year. But I’ve been around the block enough times to know that this isn’t the way it works.

We had brutal cold and snowy, icy roads during the last couple weeks of December that disrupted our Christmas celebrations so the wrapped presents were still under the tree Christmas night and the ham was still in the three season room waiting to be carved. Now January has been almost balmy, feeling more like late November weather. And we have been in Florida during the first weeks of January for most of the past 35 years, but not this year.

The past year was a very stressful year for us, a year of sadness, a year of “missings.” Yesterday Jim went into our travel trailer to check things out and came back saying he really likes our camper. We didn’t use it at all last summer – it was jacked up without wheels. We both miss the summer road trips pulling our summer home behind us and he is wondering whether we will use it this next summer. I told him that last summer we didn’t go out because he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to do the heavy work that is required of him. This year he is doing better with medications and I said that we wouldn’t know if he could do it unless he tried. He was happy with this answer.

I have been working on being patient this past year as Jim is struggling with coming to terms with the impact that Myasthenia Graves is having on his life – the weakened and cramping muscles, decreased energy, and sometimes slow mental processing. Watching him struggle to find meaning for his life has triggered the memories of my struggles adjusting to living with fibromyalgia. I remember so well the pain of loosing my sense of self and fearing that I no longer had value, that I had no purpose for living. I am remembering the scene of Jim telling me, with tears, that he missed me – and I, with tears, saying I missed me too. I don’t feel like I have lost him although I struggle to be patient when he gets stuck thinking things through when solving problems with me. Yes, I remember my own mental fog that used to sometimes be like pea soup.

In January, after the tree is taken down but the manger scene is still on the table in the middle of my living room, I am reflecting on how the birth of Jesus should impact on who I am and what I do within the social context of 2023. What difference does it make in how I live my life that Jesus was born 2023 years ago? What do I need to do as a 78 year old woman who deeply loves a man who is struggling with health issues; a woman who has needed to take on the work of negotiating with people and making hundreds of decisions in our rebuild project after Hurricane Ian flooded our condo in Florida; a woman who is fearful for democracy here in the U.S. and around the world, who fears for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren and those in underdeveloped nations who will hurt because those before them have destroyed the environment? I know what I would like to do as I ponder the teachings of Jesus, but I also know I have limitations due to age and decreased physical functioning. I would love to get involved, to work for justice, but the fatigue that forced me to retired from paid work also makes it impossible to volunteer in the world of work. I have been working on patience for a long, long time but now I need something different – I am feeling called to practice gentleness.

As I wrote that last phrase, I feel this calling deeply and intensely within my soul – I need to become a gentlewoman if I am going to successfully deal with life, that messy life that is following me from 2022 to 2023. I will start by being gentle with myself as I define what it would be like to be a gentlewoman. And my knowledge of how people change tells me that I will need to start practicing personal gentleness until it becomes a part of who I am. At the same time I will practice gentleness (along with honesty, firmness and grace) with those people that I live with. This is consistent with the research (Harvard Longitudinal Longevity Study) that has found that as we age social relationships are very important for our mental and physical well-being.

Have you thought about what the start of a new year means for you? What guiding principles do you draw on when thinking about who you are and how you want to be? I think the process of maturing/aging is the same for everyone – we just go about it differently.

Just a Little Time Outside

Haven’t been out for many walks lately as I have been consumed by choosing products for our Florida rebuild after the storm surge. I also made the decision (in one of my less sane moments) to make quilted Christmas gifts for all family members that will gather at our house this year. I did however walk down our short drive to take some photos of the gorgeous Maple tree in the side yard when it was at its most colorful.

The leaves have since fallen and we have what seems like an early snow on the ground. It was challenging for Jim to get the leaves raked and I stopped myself from helping because the raking and bending would have inflamed the arthritis in my lower back. Our son came to help with the second raking but there were still leaves that hadn’t fallen. Then we got the best help of all – we had a couple of days of very strong winds – like rattle the rafters strong – and we looked out and all the rest of the leaves were gone. We smiled big. It seems like one of the greatest challenges of reaching old age is to recognize that we can no longer do many of the things we used to do and to (gasp) let someone help us when we can do it perfectly well ourselves.

This post was inspired by Becky’s November Squares theme Walking Squares. It’s a nice theme, Becky.

Thinking About Photography (and Aging)

I watched a video this week and the two photographers, Ian Plant and Colleen Miniuk, talked about how, from their perspective, there are no rules in photography (the example they used was the rule of thirds for composition). They believe that the primary goal of photography is to make an esthetically pleasing image, one that is beautiful and tells a story. As I have been thinking about this, it seems like the only story I can tell with integrity is my story. I may tell you that I am working to capture the essence of the Naples Botanical Garden, but what I think this really means is that I am working to show you how I perceive the Garden, how it impacts me, what I find beautiful as I walk down the many paths every week during our winter stay. How the Garden touches my soul.

Of course some of my photography is simply recording “what is” in the few seconds it takes to push the shutter. I have a lot of those photos in my files that help me compensate for my poor memory. The featured photo for today’s post doesn’t fit into that category, however. I took it several years ago and I remember being pulled into the color and the lighting. It spoke to me of the beauty of nature as it matures. I found this photo again this week and I believe it is even more reflective of what I am trying to get my brain around in the learning journey of being old.

This photo reflects how my story was unfolding then; and how my story continues to mature today. I am reading a book by Parker Palmer, one of my favorite non-fiction writers, entitled On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, & Getting Old. This is a book of essays he wrote to help him gain an understanding of his own aging, and I am experiencing the joy of seeing myself in most of what he has written. The most important reading in my life has been when the writing is helping me know more about the person who I am within the context of life, and when I read with courage I discover the person I am really meant to be. These frequently haven’t been the same, but that is another post.

This post is about realizing that my story is a beautiful story. It is a story of pain and pleasure, anger and forgiveness, falling down and getting back up, missed opportunities and exciting success, great loves and painful losses, arrogance and humility. As I sit with my laptop on my lap and my fingers on the keys, I pause my writing, close my eyes, and think about all that has happened before. I come to the conclusion that I wouldn’t change a thing – nothing. My life isn’t like a book that I can go back and edit, delete some parts that I am embarrassed by or make me cry when I think about them. I can’t rip those pages out and burn them, have the brain cells that hold the memories electrocuted. No, all those experiences are written in my history with permanent ink and they make my story what it is.

My life is a beautiful story. If I truly embrace my life story as beautiful, it seems logical that I will be better able to recognize all of life’s stories as they unfold before me and, if my camera is with me, will be able to capture the beauty of life’s joy and suffering, life and death. Yes, I can express my life story, our life story, with my photographic images and it seems I will be successful with a few that will be beautiful.

I burst into laughter with the realization that these high ideals would best be achieved if I were living in a 25 year old body. But my current favorite motto comes to mind – it is what it is.

I Feel the Seasons Changing

Early last week I stepped out on my front porch before the sun was up over the trees of the hedgerow and I felt late summer. The air was cool and dry on my skin and I heard the silence of the morning that seems to come when summer has spent most of her energy and nature is slowing down. I smiled because I welcome this slowing down but it lasted only that one day – then we went into a stretch of the dog-days of August with high heat and humidity.

I’ve noticed that my garden is also starting to take on the late summer look. My attention has shifted from fighting weeds to dead-heading in the hopes that the plants, mainly daisies, will send out some more buds. There is still a lot of color with black-eyed susans, echinacea, zinnias, a few late-blooming day lilies, a bright pink hibiscus, and a few other flowers of various colors sprinkled in. I like what I’m seeing in my garden but I am also thinking about some changes I want to make for next year.

I came across the photo below taken nine years ago and I smiled because I love the goose neck that is featured center front. I believe that was its last year because I realized that it was spreading way to fast and I dug it all out. Well almost – it is still growing in the daisies. And every time I find a plant I think I might let it settle in my garden because I love it so much, and then I remember how fast it takes over – so I pull it out. It will be back next year.

Garden, Early July, 2013

As I look at this photo I realize that the only plant that is still growing (with my consent) in this area is the daisy. The shrubs have been removed, and the cat mint (purple) was transplanted when the stone walls were rebuilt a few years ago. And the lilies are struggling in other places, they just aren’t happy in my garden soil. During the past 14 years my garden has been evolving; and my life seems to be on the same trajectory. Neither me nor my garden are what we used to be.

I know that the aging process involved losses and a lot of change; I developed courses on aging. A life-span development course I developed and taught helped students learn that every phase of life involves some loses that are replaced by new ways of being in our world. Each phase of life has developmental tasks that need to be accomplished in order to be physically, spiritually, and emotionally healthy. As we transition from phase to phase some familiar and comfortable ways of being are either taken away or we let go of them. These are frequently treasured privileges, what we have thus far built our identities on. As we approach the end of each phase we need to recognize what we need to give up, what we no longer have, what is no longer useful and then to have the courage to step into an unknown future and learn new ways of thinking and behaving. Have you noticed that what happens to one person in a family or friendship community, impacts the other people, frequently with overlapping demands for developmental change? A fun example to think about is how the developmental tasks of adolescents mesh with the developmental tasks of parents.

Jim and I (and most of our friends) are transitioning into old age. We have retired from paid employment with a mixed bag of sorrows and joys. I miss the status it brought me and the joy of meaningful work that was recognized by colleagues. Jim was overjoyed to leave a job that had become difficult for him to do while maintaining his integrity. He took a part-time job that brought him great joy – can’t wait to get to work joy. He had to leave that so we could spend winters in Florida and travel while spending summers in Michigan. Both of us have been robbed of energy through chronic health issues and normal aging. At core we are struggling to know who we are now that we have moved beyond being productive in our culturally salient way of making money. We both like to help people, but are struggling to know how to help others when we have just about enough energy to take care of ourselves. What seems to have surprised me most is that I am struggling to know how my religious faith can be relevant in my old age. I am in the middle of working through this and will share my doubts, my struggles and new insights in another post.

This link will lead you to an earlier post, from 6 years ago, that is a perfect companion to my thoughts today. https://imissmetoo.me/2016/07/13/memory-of-a-childs-summer/

Treasures of my Mind

Oh my, what do I treasure. I spent some time looking around the house and there are lots of items purchased in foreign countries that could be treasures, but on the other hand they are just items. I really enjoy both of our residences; but are they treasures? I have gotten great pleasure from my garden and get lots of compliments on it, but once again it doesn’t feel like a treasure. When it gets to be too much work I will turn it into something else and I won’t grieve because it will be a relief. I love my family and friends and they bring me so much pleasure but when I think of them as a treasure, it almost sounds like they are objects I possess. I also get a lot of joy through using my sewing machine and my cameras, but they seem to be objects that somehow lead to a greater treasure. As you can see, I’ve put a lot of thought into this Lens-Artist Challenge: Treasures.

Then it occurred to me that all of these things were once treasures to me but I seem to be changing as I am aging. I believe my greatest treasure in life is my memory.

Our campers could be listed as treasures; we have had six or seven. This year Jim isn’t putting the tires on our current one because we decided we wouldn’t go on any trips because of the price of gas. Last night during supper we talked about all the beautiful, interesting places we have been with a camper in tow. We talk about experiences with our kids and the other kids that sometimes went along. In memory mode we can also laugh about all the “oh shit” moments that we got into and had to figure out how to get out of. These memories are our shared treasures that make our relationship a treasure.

I have found so much pleasure working in my flower garden this year – maybe because others have done the heavy work and I’ve done the planning and planting. Now that’s a collaboration to treasure. After ten years I seem to be reworking my garden design as it seems to be growing out of it’s previous plan. Did I hear someone say, “Wow, she had a garden plan all worked out.” My plan was not on paper nor based on a wealth of plant knowledge. I followed the trial and error plan – reading lots of books (that suggested I draw a layout) and relying on what I could find in local garden centers.

This year, however, I found a surprise treasure while working in my garden. I found a connection to my grandmother who also loved to garden. This is my Polish grandmother who I know loved me but the relationship was hard to maintain because we had a language barrier. I felt her spirit with me this summer as I gardened, thinking that she would approve of my work and would have loved to get her hands dirty along with me.

The only objects that I really treasure are my books. I learn best through reading so I have books on gardening/landscaping, photography, travel, quilting, faith development, and professional books. All of these books shaped who I am and will continue to guide me into new life experiences. I believe even the fiction I read impacts who I am. I continue to cull my books and of course buy new ones that indicates that I am a work in progress as I approach 80. As my dear colleague, Margret, used to say, “God isn’t finished with me yet.”

I also treasure relationships with family and friends but don’t do well with photographing people and feel uncomfortable posting the photos on public media. Besides that would require another whole post. They do, however, fit into the treasures that make me who I am, along with my nature and social environments. Maybe the big-picture treasure that interconnects all, is that I treasure who I am, who I am becoming, and the life I have been able to live, am currently living, and look forward to in the future – with all it’s ups and down.