Over the hill, or on higher ground?
Getting old is shocking. Everyone I talk to is going through something. Hip replacements, death of a spouse, dating for the first time in 30 years, in remission, writing a bucket list, more meaning, or maybe just taking a cruise. Others are rearranging everything from big to smaller housing, and new faces appear from surgery.
The people I used to hike with have bad backs or heart attacks. I can’t believe I used to jog up that hill I now walk. So, am I over the hill? Or going towards higher ground? It seems like a race to the bottom for baby boomers. Being over 50, things go downhill.
I wonder just what went down anyway. I keep telling people I feel like 40 inside, so, how did this happen? I know, I know…death happens. We all die someday, but how to deal with it? As my friend Walt says, “I don’t mind dying; it’s the process that bothers me.” There’s no getting around it, aging sucks. Then again, who would want to live forever?
It’s the weirdest time. Do I accept the slow deterioration that’s happening, or do I get up for more life and go forward with gusto? No guts, no glory. Is aging about surrender or not going down without a fight? Is life beyond midlife our last chance to go towards passions that gnaw at us? A life of meaning? Or, is it time to smell the roses, to feel the divine, and fade gracefully?
Bertrand Russell said, “I want to be all used up before I die” and I lean towards that road. Of course I feel pretty used up lately from challenges and this crazy economy. But, power and courage seem to me to be necessary as we age. What good is wisdom if we don’t use it before we lose it? I have friends who recently moved to a big city while having health problems, even hospitalized during the move. Hey, they love the new town now. But I also admire people who bow gently towards the stars and give it up. There isn’t one right road; it’s just different for everybody.
I still find this stage of life unsettling. It leaves me with too much memory. I miss people who have gone so much. I wake up at three in the morning, remembering good friends, missing them so much. What I would give for just one more cup or coffee or glass of wine with them… that is what mom used to say after dad died, “what I would give….for just one hour with him.”
A walk down the street is, now you see him, now you don’t. Old pals who aren’t around anymore. I used to enjoy bagels in the park with one friend and our great conversation about the future of humanity. I miss my brother, my mother, my dad. I tell myself: focus on now — we all die someday – so be in the now. I say my good-bye’s again. I flash back on my cat Einstein and beloved dog Harold and soothe myself, knowing, hell, we are all just star dust. Or maybe I should say heaven.
I am feeling fairly calm with the notion of dying someday. I feel a presence of some higher experience. Not the highs we had in the 60’s maybe, but a palpable sense of faith and the essence of something higher than this plane. Still, wonder if I’ve given enough love and what’s it all about? I worry about loneliness, money, climate crisis and Medicare. What to do? Pray or get active? Maybe both. Then I remind myself, “You can’t take it with you” so I focus on gratitude and letting it be.
What does death teach us? Clearly, to love more fully. And maybe this big group of boomers should start a big boom movement to change the world before it’s too late? Isn’t that what we’re all about? There are a lot of us. Or do we just fall down and go boom?
Katy Byrne is a Sonoma-based Psychotherapist.