When I turned 80 years old in January, it was a rise in stature to stand on this platform of perpetuity and a privilege that I had survived this far when so many I knew hadn’t.
While there is the weight of a burgeoning past behind me, the future appears more opaque than before. It has been my experience that each decade brings new dimension to the life cycle, with fresh possibilities for self-growth and transformation.
I saw my 60s as training wheels for growing older, sort of easing into the aging process; the 70s were a mine field to walk through — it’s where I lost five neighbors, four friends and my cousin Dick.
Now I’ve stepped into the 80s, a big step, but I think I have the boots for it. When I hear Joni Mitchell sing her song, “Both Sides Now” and she comes to the line “I’ve looked at life from both sides now,” I wonder how she wrote those lyrics at such a young age that feel so appropriate for me to borrow now. The present is rich with lessons learned at the intersections of joy and sorrow, loss and gain, sickness and health.
My health is fine, I mean fine for my age, as a doctor said. I have a posse of physicians — my primary doctor, neurologist, endocrinologist, gastroenterologist, cardiologist — they arrest symptoms, order tests and report results that are average for my age, in most cases. You might wonder, “How can a woman say she is fine with a list of specialists like this?”
Old age doesn’t lie. Each body system represents a world in us not taken seriously until things go awry. These separate systems get put back in order to make the body feel whole again. However, I am aware that Death is before me every day, not in a morbid sense but a reminder to use my life well. I try my best to stay healthy, and when someone asks, “How are you?” I answer definitively, “I’m fine, I’m fine,” in case Death is listening.
Being 80 seems an appropriate time to look over my past to realize what I’ve learned or what I still need to learn. Processing my self-history is not new to me. I took an OLLI memoir-writing class 10 years ago and wrote a memoir in order to answer questions my grandchildren might have about their grandmother when they are old and want to know. I wished that I could have asked my grandmothers the same questions: Where did you grow up, what was your family life like, what was your marriage like, did you enjoy being a mother, what was your idea of God and religion, what kind of work did you do?
If I could write an addendum that expressed my perspective today, it would include the importance of humility and redemption in living well. Real transformation can take a lifetime, perfection is spotty, and mercy is two-sided. As said in the Lord’s prayer, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Today, a practice of forgiveness was just that, a practice, as I cleaned pigeon droppings from the floor of the entry balcony of our home. A plague of pigeons has settled on the roof of our condo building’s courtyard, and they have coveted every available surface. Nature has had my respect ever since I was a child growing up on the Olympic Peninsula’s wet, lush landscape with the sound of squawking seagulls circling over tall evergreen trees. It was my inherited experience that Mother Nature pretty much stayed in her place. Now, 80 years later, climate change has upended predicted norms, making her behavior excessive.
Am I, too, becoming unpredictable in my old age? As the poet Mary Oliver asks, “So, what is it I did with my one, wild and precious life, where am I now, and where do I want to be?” Good questions.
Judy Ticehurst is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email 600- to 700-word articles on all aspects of inner peace to Sally McKirgan at firstname.lastname@example.org.