I have taken thousands of photos of waterlilies, most of them awash with the gentle light of the Florida sun hovering low in the morning sky. Usually the waterlilies bloom parallel to the surface of the water, but this one was standing perpendicular to the water – so it was backlit by the morning sun. I got down low on the paved walk (not easy for this aging body) because it felt so special for me.
The constant news coverage of the bad and the ugly and the corrupt can lead me over the cliff of believing the whole world is evil. My antidote for this is to turn the TV off and focus on what is beautiful and good. The photo above was taken at the botanical garden and we are going this morning to let nature feed our spirit and the café feed our tummy.
This past week-end I had the opportunity to spend some time with one of our neighbors who is 98 years old. Dorothy is my role model for aging. She is sharp, knows what is going on, is fiercely independent (trying to get her to do something she doesn’t want to do always ends in her doing what she wants to do), she is well groomed with a little makeup and attractive clothes, her smile is radiant and her eyes sparkle like the brightest star. And she is still a snow bird, spending a few months here in southern Florida, a few months with her daughter in Maryland, and a few months in her Michigan community at the tip of the lower peninsula. Did I tell you that she is 98 years old. She gave up driving two or three years ago, has severe hearing loss, and walks slowly with a cane. I am so lucky to have her in my circle of friends.
On the topic of aging, when I was in my 60’s I thought I would like to live until 70 or maybe 75. When I reached 70 I upped it to 80. Now I am pushing 80 and think I would like to live until 90. If I can age like Dorothy, I would find it exciting to live to 100. I have come to the conclusion that aging gracefully and with joy requires acknowledging losses, going through the pain and nastiness of grieving, and then working to find ways to get our needs met in ways that nurture us and keeps us engaged. I don’t want to live beyond losing my ability to smile from my heart. Having beautiful things around me make me smile from my heart.
I have so many beautiful people in my life that make my heart sing and bring a smile to my face. My mother and grandmother frequently told me that “beauty is only skin deep.” I knew what they meant but what I understand now requires different words. Real beauty doesn’t have much to do with what is visible – what we carry on the outside. Some of the most beautiful people I know have wrinkles, pot bellies, blotchy skin, sagging everything. My husband, Jim, is so beautiful that I smile every time I look at him.
Our minister did a three-part sermon series on growing old – appropriate as we have a large older population. For the past three Sundays there was lots of laughter and nodding of heads as he shared information from three books that he has found useful (see list below). One concept that resonated with us was that as we age and loose various abilities we have to be open to accepting help from others. I have had fibromyalgia for about 15 years and there were some tense times as Jim tried to help me and I tried to do everything I had previously done. I think I became a little more gracious in accepting his help as the years went on – it was a gradual journey. Last summer he was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis that weakens his voluntary muscles and causes double vision. Medication has helped slurring, difficulties with swallowing, and a droopy eye-lid. We have an appointment with his specialist at UofM when we get back to Michigan to get the double vision corrected.
We need each other’s help now. We are finding ways of making our life simpler (read: less cleaning and maintenance), and housework is frequently a tag-team event. Our energy levels are similar so we plan activities carefully so we don’t become too exhausted to enjoy the next day. We are thinking about, and sometimes talking about, what we may have to give up, things that we really treasure and enjoy but may not be able to do any more. We’ll figure it out, and shed a few tears maybe, but our current strategy is to find joy and laughter in each day. And if life seems to sour a little, we take a nap.
My word of the year is “patience.” I think I need to have it tattooed on the back of each hand, maybe the top of my feet, and written on the palm of my hand with permanent marker. Last week I realized that I hadn’t had the patience to stick with being patient. This week I realize I need to be patient with myself because last week would have tried the patience of anyone. We had the flooring replaced in our whole condo because we are just a few feet above sea level and in the rainy summer the ground gets so wet that water comes up through our cement foundation. We had vinyl planking put down. As I am getting older I am finding I have less patience for chaos, and having every room tore up and not being able to make anything right is chaos.
My primary purpose for choosing the word “patience” is so I can be better at being patient with people who behave in ways that trigger my frustration or fear or insecurities. As I have been thinking about patience I have realized how intertwined it is with the characteristics of love (and in the Christian faith with the fruit of the Holy Spirit), like kindness, humility, generosity, gentleness, self-control. I’m wondering if being successful in having these qualities leads to joy (a fruit of the Spirit). Let me know what you have learned about this from your experience.
I plan to write more about this, from various perspectives of living and aging, throughout the year. No need to have all the answers right now – I can be patient.