Aging has been on my mind lately—passing a 75th birthday can do that to a person—though I recognize it’s not a hot topic out there in the world. Nonetheless, it’s a reality we will all deal with one day . . . if we’re lucky.
I am entering an era of last things.
I just purchased what I’ve told my partner and my family will probably be my last car. They laugh at me a bit. But the car is new, of a sturdy make, fulfills every transportation need I can imagine having, and comes with more bells and whistles than are entirely useful. Also, I usually drive my cars for ten years, and I am skeptical that another new car when I’m 85 will be high on my list . . . unless by then the ones that drive themselves are available and I can afford such a thing.
I’ve also just returned from a three-week trip to New Zealand and Australia. My daughter and I were visiting two former exchange students that were part of our family many years ago, and we loved rediscovering these women in their adult lives in the midst of their families, seeing their homes, exploring their worlds. But I was conscious with every step that this was a once-in-a-lifetime trip for me. No doubt my daughter will return one day, but I’m certain I won’t.
I have been working for what is beginning to feel like too long on a young-adult novel. Blue-Eyed Wolf is the biggest challenge I have taken on in my career. It is longer and more complex than anything else I have written. (The truth is I have been setting it aside as much as I’ve been working on it, the reasons varying from last winter’s broken arm to having contracted other work. But I’m ready to return to it now.) I am very conscious as I work that it is unlikely I’ll ever take on such a challenge again. There are days when I ask myself whether my brain—and my expertise—are even up to what I’ve embarked on. But mostly I enjoy discovering new dimensions of my own craft, of my own psyche, and am content to know it’s unlikely I’ll want to do anything like it again. Other, less challenging work, of course. But not anything of this scope or complexity.
And how do I feel about the lastness of car, of travel, of taking on almost-overwhelming writing projects? The truth?
Content. Deeply content.
My mother, who died at 97, used to say of being old, “But you don’t feel any different!” And I agree with her. The child you were, the young adult, the in-charge-of-the-world mom with kids and pets and career are still tucked away inside this too obviously crumbling shell. These former selves are there, intact, and none expects what they see when they look into the mirror.
And yet in another way—as was often the case—I don’t agree with my mother at all. I do feel entirely different than any of those younger selves.
Mostly, I feel better than I ever have. Not physically. Those challenges mount. But I am more accepting of myself, which means I’m more accepting of others. That doesn’t suggest this deep introvert can now walk into any social situation and know I belong there. Far from it. But it means that I rarely challenge my own right to exist.
It also means I am accepting of the life that stretches out behind me—monumental mistakes and profound loss included—and am content with this moment. This moment of sun- sparkled snow just beyond my study window. Of a small dog sleeping beneath my desk. Of this breath filling my lungs.
And this one.
And this one, too.
I wake each morning knowing I have little need, if any, to prove anything . . . to myself or to the world.
That is the true gift of a 75th birthday!
And a great place to be as I enter a New Year.
A blessed New Year to all my readers!