(From the Archives)
Out of breath, out of time.
I lunch and wait for the next appointment.
Long days line up like dominoes ready to topple.
Unexpected fellows – these tall trees and ruins that hum a tune from A Secret Garden.
Oh statue, I am you – Straining and working,
We pretend we hold world’s weight.
But above our hands, September sky,
Gravity’s God holds us both together.
You – crumbling weathered stone. Me – spinning blood and dust.
I had forgotten.
(Guest post by Ashly Stage of Food: A Liberal Education)
The first time I visited my friends Eric and Rebecca, I could see that they lived in what appeared to be a typical suburban home. But upon walking through the door I was greeted with the smells of another country. The slightest hint of cinnamon was in the air. Vibrant blankets on the couch, richly-colored accent chairs, art and artifacts from around the world greeted me.
As Eric, Rebecca, and I settled in with coffee and homemade chocolates, we took turns asking the usual questions: “How are you?” “What’s new?” “How’s your love life?” Being single, I was sensitive to the last question.
As I child I was not a fan of classical music. NOT a fan. I would scour the library or bookstores for popular piano music to avoid playing it in lessons. My teacher did let me play (and improvise) the popular songs while my classical scores limped along until contest.
When college auditions came, I panicked. All memorized classical music?! I was forced to “get serious” about practicing and nothing was more easily accessible than Beethoven.
Beethoven’s music sounded good AND fit well under my fingers. The more I played it, the more my musical language grew to appreciate early Bach and Haydn all the way to the late great weirdness of Bartok. But Beethoven was the road in. Hours of practice culminated in a long senior recital. It was one of my personal “conquering Mount Everest” moments.
My new normal is sitting in a waiting room at the lab draw facility surrounded by the very young and the aging. I am drawn to the older patients. They are the ones who look up from their devices and want to chat. They talk about their grandkids, “The Bachelorette”, clipping coupons, and gardens cucumbers. They seem unfazed by diagnoses and blood tests.
Luci Shaw’s wry humor and poetic finesse at 84 years young is captivating. She tells it like it is. Her book, Adventure of Ascent: Field Notes from a Life-Long Journey contains countless gems of wisdom. In an American culture that often views seniors as out-of-touch or problematic, Luci Shaw is evidence that not only are our best years ahead of us, but life is meant to be lived well, even to the end.
Here are a few insights that stood out to me above the rest:
1. No one is an unbiased reporter when it comes to a memoir. We cannot be outside of ourselves to see clearly. So we do our best to be honest about the rough parts of our lives. This is a necessary turning away from narcissism that is prevalent in first-person writing that saturates our blogs and books.
2. We can mourn the “loosening spring” – the loss of physical abilities. As our bodies fall apart, patience develops through asking for help and having to wait. There is security in knowing who you are apart from your ability to perform.
3. We are “enough” but we don’t feel “enough”. These aging heroes often wonder out loud if they did the right things, the best things.
“Feasting on distances” means not being afraid to look towards the end of life – and to those who are nearing life’s ending. To live well today means that we have the courage to look toward where we are going.
I would like to infect my contemporaries, both young and old, with an openness that frees us to talk about unknowns , muscled by faith, with joy as fluid in me as the blood in my veins. Feasting on distances. Yes.
– Luci Shaw
(Pictures – Lechworth State Park, NY)
This summer I am going down a new path. Just as I am opening windows and cleaning house, I am mentally due for the same. A needed breath of fresh air.
I recently realized that the ONLY stuff I had been tuning into was written by authors close to my age. Instead, Dorothy Day and Luci Shaw have been expanding my horizons. Their books are filled with tenacious wisdom that only comes with seniority. Such perspective has been real gold.
This summer I am exploring –
Outside my circle
Outside my city
Can’t wait for you to come along.
(Picture – Storm King Art Center, NY)