Cold temperatures and snow are forecast for this February Sunday; I slept in a bit longer than usual, and now sit contentedly in my cozy old robe and sip hot coffee. I have no commitments today -- a day of leisure to fill with pleasures of my choosing. Although I have always loved winter, I find that as I age, by February I am becoming tired of the extra efforts required to stay warm and safe -- the boots, hats, gloves, careful steps on snowy surfaces, and the fear of falling which keeps me from my much-loved walks in the darkness as snow falls all around me. Already, in the very first storm of the season (on my 64th birthday, no less), I fell as I walked down the driveway to take a photo of the sheer beauty of my snow-covered old house with its tiny white Christmas candles sprinkling their light into the snowy darkness. Since then, I have been plagued with knee and back pains from time to time.
Aging is serious business. We must take care of ourselves -- in body, mind and spirit -- so that the process can be a joyful one. When I was young, with a houseful of children, pets, and friends, my energy seemed limitless, and my days were full. I was immersed in life, and pushed myself to the limit in everything that I did. The first time I really noticed a decrease in my energy level was when my second son graduated from high school when I was forty-six. Of course, I planned a large graduation party, and all came out well, except I realized that I was much more exhausted after this party than I had been after his brother's graduation four years before. Could it be my age??
A few years later, in my early fifties, I stood in a dressing room, with the harsh overhead lighting accentuating each strand of silver roots peeking through the blonde hair. I made a mental note to touch up my haircolor. As I slipped off my sweater, I was surprised by the softness of my body. My skin seemed somehow looser, not quite sagging, but no longer tightly drawn over the tissue underneath. There was a vulnerable look to my arms and neck, a sense that while I still wore the same size, there was somehow less substance to my body. This new awareness of my aging body startled me. When did my firm chin begin this undetected softening; when did my body begin to resemble my mother's.
The aging process had begun to catch up with me. In many ways, the mindset of our baby-boom generation led us to unrealistic expectations of aging. We heartily believed that with the proper diet, exercise, and mental stimulation, we would barely notice a change as we hurtled along into middle age and finally reached the "elderly" status. We didn't realize that there is also a genetic component to aging. My family was comprised of both those who died much too young, and those who lived into their 80's and early 90's. I have no idea whose aging genes I carry, so I tend to cherish every day that I have. One of my friends has parents who were active and quick-minded well into their 90's. I also have friends my age who suffer from disabling diseases. We have no idea what our own aging process will be; we do, however, have the power to look for the smallest of pleasures each day which will enhance the lives we have been given.
As we reach our sixties and beyond, there is a freedom to finally be ourselves and be content within our own skin. We can retire, keep working, work part-time, volunteer, take care of our grandchildren, travel; the possibilities are endless. I have chosen to care for my grandchildren during the day, and this has blessed me with deep emotional rewards. Once they are all in school, I would like to pursue some of my hobbies with more serious intent -- genealogy, gardening, writing, photography. Social media has allowed many of us to reconnect with friends from long ago. How wonderful it is to talk to people I haven't seen in years -- to reminisce and renew friendships across the miles with the click of a few computer keys.
Some of us are in great physical shape and others are not. Some of us are financially comfortable and others live in poverty. Whatever our circumstances, though, we can find joy in our everyday lives. We are free to live our lives as we choose. We can spend time with people we enjoy -- who bring laughter and understanding to our lives. My energy level decreases a little each year, and I struggle on my limited income, but I find pleasure in my much-loved old house, my flowers and herbs, my precious birds and little creatures who inhabit my yard and eat peacefully together at the bird feeder. I have a world of books from which to choose at the local library. I live in a wonderful little neighborhood where we all watch over each other -- we have even begun a new generation here with precious little twins who live in the house where their great-grandfather once lived.
As we grow into this new elderly stage of life, we will be faced with new challenges and will have days when our troubles weigh us down; we will struggle with painful joints that are no longer as flexible, and issues with forgetfulness. Our eyesight may fade a bit, and our hearing will diminish with time. We have the power to decide how we will face these years. We can choose to dwell on the limitations of age, or we can choose to fill our days with pleasure, joy and love. These can be the best years of our lives --