“Where are the songs of Spring?”
Oh, think not of them,
for Age has wondrous Music, too.”
When I was in my 40’s, a writer I highly admired, Carolyn L. Heilbrun, published a book on getting old and said that she planned to commit suicide on her 70th birthday because no one found happiness in their later years.
I tossed the thought aside, as nothing to do with me, but it found a cozy corner in my mind, took up residence there and ever so often I’d find myself checking in to see how it was holding up. It smiled back.
I paid it no heed, for my life was contentedly busy with family and job, but suddenly, where I had been one of a close-knit family group of eight, in less than a year, there was only one left. Me.
Five left by death! My husband, Gram, Uncle Jake, and an aunt and uncle in California; while at the same time, jobs and marriage took my sons. Oh, I had my job, but jobs eventually come to an end, and I knew it was time to take stock of my life. It could never be the same as the year before, and I wondered, “What am I going to do with the coming years?”
I was scared, because it was the first time I had ever considered such a question, for my life had always seemed to be in an orderly procession, laid out before me as if fated. And startling me more was realizing that ever since birth, I had been doing only what others told me to do, and punished if I rebelled. First: parents, then one after another, church, teachers, bosses, husband, and on and on. Oh, and the ads and commercials not only told me what to wear, but what to think and how to act.
And angry with myself for getting into my 50’s before recognizing that my every move had been programmed by others. Looking around, I saw everyone ‘in the same boat’, and wondered if that was why most old people seemed to lead such dismal lives. No one, not even TV, was telling that age group what to do.
So, so, so. Carefully, cautiously, I began exploring what changes to make, and decided not to let fear glue me to the old and familiar. All that was over. I couldn’t raise my sons again, or re-live my life with my husband, and so I went back to Heilbrun. Obviously she did not commit suicide at 70 and her book, The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty was great. It’s not a self-help book, but an eye-opener of how she accepted that Last Gift. The years, if we don’t die, we all eventually reach.
There had been nothing wrong with my past life, but I now wished I had done some things in another way. But I also saw that no matter how much wiser(?) I had become, I couldn’t change the past, and better start looking ahead, not back.
All this didn’t happened over night, but slowly, and for the very first time in my life I consciously began choosing what classes to attend, which books to read, what hobbies to experiment with, no matter how ‘off the board’ they seemed. Took me a while to come to terms with that idea, for, like it or not, we all find it very nice to be able to blame someone else if we don’t like what happens. Think about that.
Heilbrun noted that our culture provides patterns for every decade in a person’s life, except how to be healthy, happy, and old. And that left people spending their last years exactly as their parents had, which was really nothing but stay at home, watch TV and its movies, and dwindle more and more into, nothingness.
She told that finding new and different things to do was a great big key. Entirely different. Learn to play the piano. Learn another language. Decide to read and study all of Shakespeare. Paint your house. But whatever you choose, do it seriously. And I thought of my friend who learned to fly and then built his own two-seater plane to soar the skies.
I, along with my artist friend Beverly Wheeler Mastrim decided to publish a full-color, coffee-table book on The Sunset of the Farmer with the words mine, and the pictures by Beverly. It’s been a joy, finding different ways to use old talents, and several books by me have followed, relating stories of long ago people who were the foundation of my Murray.
People’s last years can be spent doing all the things one wanted to, but had no time for. To not let anyone tell us ‘no’, or discourage us, or to even ask “Why?” Why? Because we want to and in doing so, I’ve found that The Source’s greatest gift is that energy and health come to let us recognize, use, and enjoy the last years of life. And I was over 75 before I even recalled Heilbrun’s thoughts of suicide at 70.
“Destiny gives us a happy youth or a happy old age,
happy youth is not always the wisest choice”.