Until recently I haven't understood those who feel old, who dread aging or complain about aches, pains and wrinkles. I know my husband Tom used to say "Getting old is not for the meek." I tried to understand how he felt, knowing he had cancer and saw himself becoming more and more frail each day. I watched him age over six years, and as his main caregiver didn't have time to look at my own reflection in the mirror. I was aging, too, yet it didn't really dawn on me then.
It wasn't until after his death in 2013 that I began to feel less vital, probably from the grief and loss, the loneliness and emptiness. Yet I still never said "I'm getting old," and kept enough energy and enthusiasm to travel and dance on weekends. It wasn't until a year ago while lying in my hammock that I got the "You are mortal and will die" wake up call. Suddenly the bolts holding the hammock to the fence pulled away and I plummeted to the rock patio below. I hit my head, blood coursing down my face and neck, and I knew I had to get to the hospital. Luckily, my grandson was here and he helped me into the car and broke some speed limits driving me to Emergency. There, I had seven staples driven into my scalp and they sent me home. Later with a better doctor, I found that I had a concussion and a sprained back.
Now, over a year later, I see that accident as a turning point in my life, letting me know, not so subtly, that I am definitely mortal, vulnerable and even fragile as a skin, blood and bone human. I now have even more compassion for my husband, more empathy for all of us who are susceptible to illness, accidents and to eventual death. These realizations could impact me so much that I never leave the house, never get in another hammock or car or plane, that I cocoon myself in soft down comforters until one day I don't wake up.
But that is not what I've done at all. My brush with death (or worse: brain damage or crippling), has made me live even more in the moment, truly seizing the day and hour and minute. Yes, I have more gray streaks now, a few more wrinkles and a roll around my tummy. And yet, I have never lived so fully and completely, taking several trips a year, going to kickboxing, enjoying a new relationship with a passionate lover, watching sunsets, hiking forests, and generally having the most fun of my life. Am I twenty with the energy of a twenty-something? No. I now take a nap on some days, (which I've never done), I don't want to cook Thanksgiving dinner or work full time, obsessively clean my house and prune all my fruit trees myself. I get to lighten up and loosen up, no longer drive myself and everyone else crazy with my busyness. I can relax and enjoy my freedom and my new partner.
He and I have even written a book about our time together called Silver Sex, Finding Love and Passion after Fifty, One Couple's Story. Life is great, and I do not feel old, but perhaps ripening like fine cheese. I feel delicious and savored as well as savoring this last quarter of my life. I'm at a balancing point, accepting as graciously as possible the signs that I am growing older each year, while focusing on the present moment each and every day. Life is a gift, and I've been given another chance to appreciate my blessings fully, knowing that landing on my head could have ended differently. It was the universe shaking my shoulders and saying, " Don't take life for granted! Be grateful for your life and each day you are here. Use your time wisely and be happy." I am.
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