Be Honest

I’ve got a question for you – well really, it’s a quote from Satchel Paige:

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”

Peter Chang - self portrait

Peter Chang – self portrait (Photo credit: chaos80129)

My own personal answer is neither firm nor absolute.  Initially, I thought the age I am now.  I am freer, wiser, less frantic, more accepting.  I don’t drive myself crazy believing that a work legacy is anything other than illusory and fleeting.  I have time for friends – old friends that I thought I would never see again and new friends that I never thought I would find at this stage in my life.  I’m smarter – or at least I think I am.  I hold onto things for far less time, and leave the perseverating to people who enjoy it more than I do.  The ghosts from my past don’t jump as high on the bed anymore.  They’ve gotten smaller, or I’ve gotten braver.  I am still ridiculously immature, do silly better than I do serious and have no intention of growing up.  I figure this intractability is ultimately a good thing – it worked for Peter Pan.

I didn’t like being a little kid, though I would give an awful lot to be horseback riding with my dad again.  I did a lot in my twenties – the best parts of it were giving birth to my sons – the rest of the decade was pretty much a disaster.  I definitely looked a lot better then.  I was fallow for most of my thirties, hiding behind my little boys while I nursed some of my open wounds.  But my sister got sick then and the mere thought of those days fills me with dread and fear (and a little nausea).  I can’t go back there, ’cause I need her here.

By the time Andy and I got together, I was closer to my forties.  Andy made me less afraid of  grown-up love.  I inherited a sister and brother-in-law I love deeply and wonderful parents-in-law.   I loved my forties – though my children became teenagers, needing to separate and return, a dance with no rhythm and what felt like no end.  I got sick in my forties.  Still looked pretty damn good – or so I’ve been told.  My dad’s decline was steeper, my mom’s anxiety heightened.  Yes, I was rocking the professional arena – and somehow that has become a footnote.

So I’m here – and I suppose this is where I would want to be – with a few caveats.  I wouldn’t mind losing the chronic pain for a few days, and sometimes wonder what will be in the future if my body is acting like such a renegade now.  There used to be an ad on tv with the tag line – “when I grow up I want to be an old woman”.  It was a good ad – lots of old women dancing around, doing lots of crazy and silly stuff – I imagine myself that way in years to come (hell, I do some of that now).  I’m determined to sparkle.  Life deserves some sequins and a feather boa.  I don’t like the implications – that more is behind me than ahead.  Other than that, I’ll take it, and don’t intend to go quietly into any good night.  I’m too lousy a sleeper.

What about you?

Walking Into Life

I think I’ve lived a good deal of my life with my senses on high alert.  When the boys were babies and I was a single mom, I remember sleeping with one ear measuring the rhythm of their breaths, the other attuned to the sounds of the house – I had to be ready, just in case.  I have always been neurotic at work – my silly view that as technology allowed 24/7 availability, I was supposed to be available in every time zone (for we had 33 office around the world).  This made me a very valuable employee in the environment known as ‘Big Law’ – where the bizarre ‘play hurt’ philosophy still drives the billable hour and the head-shaking awe and respect of others.  I’m the person you want in a crisis – no tears, very collected, logical – I’m ready.  Divorce?  Death?  Employment issue?  Performance problem?  Marital angst?  Sick child?  I’m your woman.  I can make it through Whole Foods in fifteen minutes and fill the cart with the proper items.  I don’t love anyone or anything in a half-assed way, and as such I will give it  everything I’ve got – no questions asked.  I have run head long into life – but for the times when I’ve crashed into a wall.

I crashed into a wall when I was diagnosed with this stupid autoimmune disease that makes my joints swell inexplicably, the tendons twisting and rioting without provocation.  When I realized that after too many surgeries I was  going to have to figure out the music that accompanies chronic pain so I could understand the rhythm I’d be dancing too (I hate being off the beat, though I am clearly off-beat).   I didn’t see the wall on Sunday. We were having brunch with our friends who asked about the Jewish ritual of sitting shiva – a seven-day mourning period after the death of an immediate family member.  After seven days in the house, one is supposed to go outside and walk back into life.  I remembered my sister and I doing this after the shiva period for both of our parents.  I couldn’t speak, for the pain of missing my parents was so visceral in that moment.  And I swear to you, for a moment I thought my heart stopped.  Walking back into life.  Walking back into life a person changed forever.

So it was when I retired last year.  No need to re-visit the early days of dissonance, when no notes came together to form a lovely sound.  Suffice it to say, I was opening the door and walking outside, completely unfamiliar with my space in the world.  At first, I walked with purpose – almost defiantly.  At some point I slowed, realizing that I had the chance just to breathe.  I wasn’t driven by urgent need – or my perception of urgent need.  I didn’t need to walk back into life for any reason other than it was my due.  It has taken me months to figure out this new rhythm, embrace the richness of this music and accept that just being me is reason enough to walk into life.  I need not be raising and protecting my delicious boys,  I don’t have to be grieving, I don’t have to be on call for anyone who may need me for reasons which they consider critical (but in retrospect were often pretty self-serving).

The beauty of stopping before you open the door lies in the anticipation of what you will find.  Each day, I now pause.  I close my eyes and open them just to be surprised at what may appear before me.  Goofy?  Perhaps.  A reminder that this is the only moment?  Definitely.